For three days Aké had seen nothing but a sea of dunes, featureless and seemingly endless under the searing sun. He was becoming weary and very low on water, but, on this morning something had caught his attention. He was standing atop a high crest and through eyes half closed against the light and distance was watching an area of turbulence on the horizon, far off to the north and east. He was seeing something moving, rippling in and out of vision. Around it the desert was a blur, the boundary between sky and land become smudged and flattened into a single darkening tone. But, as curious as it appeared to him, Aké felt this mystery to be the least of his troubles. Having no choice but to find the oasis that he and his mentor Pemba had set out for, his initiation had thrown him into a struggle for survival.
He had taken to walking between first and last light for only as long as he dared, stopping to rest and sheltering as best he could at the height of the day. He knew to use the sun and stars to navigate, and he knew how to move silently and quickly at night, Pemba had instructed him in these things, but, to Aké it was impossible to tell if he was nearer his goal or not. He might as well have been going round in circles. In fact Aké had come face to face with the true nature of his challenge – only through fully opening up and using the connection between his personal medicine and the beings of the otherworlds would he survive. This is how it was with initiation, and with good reason.
Just how close Aké was to his goal only the hawk hovering far above him could see. But, the desert can be full of deceptions and, at any moment, even an experienced traveller can be led astray by the forces at large in that vast wilderness……
……Pemba heared soft footsteps approaching. Pulling his mind’s eye from the burning sky he looked up in time to see Tuq stepping into the shade of the ancient palms. He squatted beside Pemba, an expectant look on his travel worn face.
“Ahhh, I knew you would not disappoint Pemba….you never do…”, said Tuq turning to survey the oasis with a satisfied smile.
It was not enough to fool Pemba – he could sense the tension in the tall northerner. “You make me sound like a horse trader Tuq”, he said, needling his old friend.
Tuq made a sour face and gestured over his shoulder. “Did he see you?”
Pemba considered a moment.
“My shadow crossed his path, briefly, but….”
“……ahahhh! So, you are losing your touch old man!”, said Tuq slapping the sand with a laugh.
“Then again, he might be exceptional…”, Pemba continued. The laughter fell from from Tuq’s face and he gave Pemba a sharp look. His piercing blue eyes cut like a laser, but, Pemba smiled and placed his hand on Tuq’s shoulder.
“I promise, he is….”, he added.
Tuq unconsciously stroked the long straggley hair of his sunbleached beard.
“Then we had better make ready for the young master…..he’ll have to be exceptional if he’s going to fulfill your promise”, he said, fixing Pemba with his stare again, “we are all relying on it”. He was right to be nervous. Much would be determined with Aké’s arrival and the moment he and Tuq finally confronted each other. But, the north-man smiled ruefully and with a shrug rose to his feet, seemingly putting his concerns to one side.
“Come on, old man, you’ll ferment under this sun if you sit here much longer”, and, offering him his hand, he pulled Pemba to his feet.
For all his abrupt manners and hidden thinking Pemba liked Tuq. It was true, he could be as hard to read as the sea of mysterious symbols that covered his body. As they walked back towards the circle of tents Pemba remembered how they had met. It had been further north, up by the Plateau of the Painted Rocks, the people’s old meeting place. Arune the Far-Seer, Pemba’s own teacher, had brought him there to learn of their deep past……on their arrival they had found Tuq, tending mint tea over a fire, as if he had been waiting for them. Arune saw it as a sign that the spirits were intervening, but, to what ends neither the old seer nor his ward were able to foretell. However, in the course of time Tuq’s appearance had taken on a deeper significance.
Having come into our midst out of nowhere, so many seasons ago, the mystery surrounding old Tuq was more than skin deep. He was both familiar and alien, recognised now as one of the far-seers, but, one whose skills and gifts were rooted in a very different soil. And, in the course of time, it was this crucial fact that helped us understand how lucky we were to have such a shrewd ally amongst us, for Tuq brought one factor into our midst that mattered above all others now – he knew the ways of the People of the Dead.
Now, the future and the past were pulling together on all our paths and this place, the hidden oasis, was the crossroads at which they would finally converge. It would be Aké’s task to remember not only his own path to the oasis, but, that of Tuq as well, for their fates had long been tied unto each other.
Aké felt the soft sand beneath him shift as he came to the crest of yet another dune. Beads of sweat dripped from his brow and stung his eyes. The horizon shimmered with seductive visions rippling at the edge of sight. He strained to see through the illusion, unsure of what was real. The eastern horizon looked for all the world as if it were moving towards him. And, were those trees, or some whim of the light and heat, a trick of the Djinn?
He had heard the elders talk of those powerful spirit beings who inhabited the wild places. In their knowledge the Djinn were older than the Earth and had come to this place with the Ancients, the life-bringers and first colonisers of this planet. But, the Djinn were also known as demanding teachers, impartial to the ways of humans, giving favour according to laws known only to themselves. The elders had sung of such things.
As he gazed into the distance a memory arose in Aké’s mind of a song he had once heard his mother singing, an origins song. It was through the gift of the Djinn, the song related, that the people learned to travel beyond the known. Since the beginning it had been the challenge of initiates to follow the ghost paths laid by the Djinn through the mirages that haunted this endlessly shifting and trackless land. As the words of the song came back to him they also reminded Aké of their darker side, of how the Djinn spoke in riddles and that, in this place, the sun’s fingers would try to find their way into the traveller’s mind and ply it away from the body and its senses. He began to understand why this song was associated with initiation – it was itself a riddle, filled with riddles.
However, as Aké remembered the voice of his mother he began to feel as though the memory held an important message, a vital piece of information, a key. He wondered if it was something that would help him find his way to the oasis.
In that moment Aké was rocked by a sharp jolt beneath his feet, followed by another and another, and a sound, so deep it was more felt than heard. It felt like a movement in the belly of the great earth spirit. A violent kick took Aké’s feet from beneath him and he fell, tumbling down the face of the dune.
He slid slowly to a halt and lay clutching at the fragile stillness, waiting…..and then he tasted it, a faint vibration at back of his throat. It was an unmistakable earthy taste that seemed to register in his very bones as its subtle musky scent played with his senses. Water.
Pemba stopped midstep, a look of puzzlement on his face.
“What is it old man, spirits got your back again….” Tuq teased his friend, giving Pemba a knowing smile.
But, Tuq quickly put his joking aside when he saw that Pemba’s face was a study of concentration.
“Did you feel it” Pemba said meeting Tuq’s eyes. He turned again to survey the sky beyond the palms. “I could have sworn…..”
Tuq’s eyes narrowed as he followed Pemba’s gaze. At that moment Demuz, the chief seer of the Blue Desert Tribe came out of the low entrance to her tent and called Pemba’s name. She strode purposefully towards them, her long indigo robe swirling behind her. She was quickly followed by a much younger woman, Demuz’ protégé Sapha. She joined her mentor just in time to hear the old woman begin speaking to the two men.
“Well, it appears your apprentice has company Pemba”, the old woman said, raising an eyebrow. Pemba looked from Demuz to Tuq and turned once again to look beyond the palm trees.
“Earth spirit….by the feel of it” he said under his breath.
“Mmmm…perhaps”, said Demuz, giving her apprentice a conspiratorial smile, “and then again….”
Pemba dropped his gaze. “Strange, the sky shows no signs and the trees remain still” he said, voicing his thoughts.
“Sapha, show our brothers what you saw in your dreaming just now”, the old woman said, giving her protégé a nod of encouragement.
Tuq and Pemba turned to look at the young woman. Sapha returned their gaze and then, squatting to smooth out an area of sand, drew a series of signs with her finger, finishing it off by enclosing the design within a circle. She looked up briefly and then began adding a second set of heiroglyphs, this time enclosing the pattern in a tent shape. Dividing the two designs she drew a deep line. She paused and, satisfied with her work, raised her eyes to look at Tuq…..by his expression he obviously knew what some of the signs meant.
Slowly squatting down to examine the patterns more closely, Tuq glanced at Sapha then pulled back his sleeve to reveal his right arm. One of the signs in the circle was identical to marks tattooed just below his elbow. Sapha nodded and pointed with her chin to the marks on his arm and then to the desert beyond the palm trees.
The young mute seer suddenly swept her hand across the design enclosed by the circle, scooped up a handful of the sand and threw it skywards with a look of alarm. Tuq’s face became grave with concern.
“We must send him warning”, he said, “he’s walking into a trap”.
“But, we cannot interfere Tuq”, Pemba said as he dropped to one knee, looking intently at the remaining design. “The spirits will either help Aké, or…..”
“…or our fate will be decided for us,” broke in the old woman, her face inscrutible and stern, “along with his!”
She had spoken the truth, and the two men knew it. Pemba, however, touched one of the designs in the tent shape and looked to Sapha.
“This is the sign of the water spirit, is it not, according to the language of the Blue tribes, and this….” he pointed at the design next to it, “….what is this?”
“It is the sign of the unkown Pemba…that which can neither be seen nor be foreseen. Your ward has company….but, we cannot tell if it is benevolent or not. It seems to be leading him both to the safety of the oasis and directly into the heart of danger. An unexpected challenge has been set for him…..” Demuz said, driving home the point.
Pemba stood and took a few steps towards the palms. His eyes half closed he scanned the sky and reached out with his mind. Far off beyond the trees the plaintive cry of a hawk was barely audible, but, it was enough for Pemba to relax his shoulders slightly and let out a sigh. Silently he returned the call to his spirit ally and waited.
Aké was sure that he was being watched. He looked around, quickly surveying the valley and the crests of the dunes above. There was no-one in sight, but, the feeling would not go away. He rose from his haunches and, dusting himself off from the fall, suddenly felt the bulge of the water gourd beneath Pembas blanket. A strange thought entered his mind and he quickly took out the gourd. It did not make any sense, as he would be literally pouring away the precious liquid, but, he had the strongest urge to make an offering of water to the spirit in this place. He took the stopper from the gourd and hesitated, searching for words to accompany the offering.
He poured a little water from the gourd into his cupped hand and, with eyes closed, spoke his thoughts into the clear cool liquid. Then, after offering the water his breath, he let it trickle between his fingers. A nebula of small craters appeared at Aké’s feet as the water seeped quickly into the soft sand. Gazing at the pattern as he returned the stopper to the gourd he began to realise – there was something in that pattern.
He reached behind his back for the divining bag and unwound the thong that bound its neck. Reaching in, Aké’s fingers touched upon something hard and spherical. He carefully eased it out of the bag. It was a seed pod, of the kind used by the dancers in his village as a rattle. With a swift flick of his wrist it released a crisp sigh. The sound brought an indistinct image briefly into Aké’s mind. He gave the pod another shake, and another, and as he listened each shake of the rattle began to merge into one flowing sound. In his mind he saw a dancing ribbon of dark energy, sparkling like water as it moved, but, through it he could see the pattern made by the water he had offered. The sound of the rattle swirled about him and the image began to shimmer, just like the mirages at the desert’s far edge. Aké increased the rhythm and within the vision a turquoise pool emerged, surrounded by swaying trees. He could see low dark tents and something indistinct that was moving towards him very quickly. Before he knew it a strange looking face thrust itself before him in the vision. He fell backwards, dropping the rattle and divining bag, and lay on his back gasping.
The face had not just startled him, there was something about it that was unusual, alien, but more than that…..he felt he knew it. No, that was not it – it knew him. A knot of fear pulled at his stomach and, with it, the feeling of being watched returned. He knew that he was not alone.
A shout rang out from the far edge of the oasis quickly followed by a gust of warm wind that set the palms swaying. Another gust sent them dancing, their long leaves hissing, as if shaken by an invisible hand.
“Habūb!” came the cry again.
“By the spirits”, said Tuq under his breath. He glanced at Pemba, but, the old diviner was still and silent, looking to the west in the direction of Aké.
“Your ward will have his mettle tested”, said Demuz, coming to his side.
But, Pemba said nothing, his gaze focused on something far above the horizon.
After a moment he turned to Demuz, a resigned look cast upon his face. He breathed in, his lips pursed, and gave a slow nod. He knew full well what this would mean for Aké.
“We shall see”, was all he said, “we shall see…”
The shadows began to soften and melt into the sand as Aké picked himself up and quickly gathered the diviner’s bag and rattle. The air began to shift, a fine veil of dust washing over the water marks at his feet. But, Aké’s attention was now fixed on the eastern horizon. Beyond the dunes the air was becoming dull and heavy, an opaque blanket obscuring the skies. He had never seen its like, but, it told him enough – he must find shelter. A strong gust of wind stung his face as the desert around him began to shift and scurry.
Then he saw it. A great wall of billowing sand was rushing towards him, rising up into the sky beyond the dunes. He turned to run, searching for a place to hide. Just as he came to a bend in the dunes he heard the roar of the wind at his back. Aké’s instincts took over and he sprinted as he had never done before. Then something snagged his foot and he went flying, tumbling over a hard and unforgiving shape buried in the sand. He had dropped the diviner’s bag and, turning to look over his shoulder, a sharp pain shot through his ribs. The wall of sand was nearly upon him, but, it was then that he saw what had tripped him up. A thin sinuous tendril covered in barbs snaked up out of the sand, like one of the forest vines on which the seed pod rattles grew, and beneath it was an unatural shadow. The divining bag sat at its edge. He scrambled back towards it and, just as his hands reached the bag, he felt the sand beneath him give way. The sky disappeared and a chaotic maelstrom of howling wind and dust swallowed the desert and Aké whole.
Demuz’ tent had become a dark cave, its eastern walls bulging inwards with the force of the wind. The sound was deafening and no-one spoke. Pemba sat with his eyes closed close to the entrance as Demuz and Sapha checked the tent’s inner supports. Tuq had gone to check on the animals and other tents. Pemba was waiting to secure the entrance flap when he returned.
Time stretched out in a seemingly endless moment and in the chaos beyond the walls of the tent everything lost its form. Within, the diviners waited for Tuq, but, he did not come.
Pemba looked to the two women and had to shout to make himself heard. “I am going to look for him”.
“Tuq will be safe, in another tent….” Demuz reassured Pemba, ” he is no stranger to the desert”.
But, Pemba was uncertain. A gut feeling told him that all was not well. Tuq should have returned long before now. He knew that what Sapha had shown them had revealed more to Tuq than he had had time to say. He closed his eyes again and reached out with his mind to his spirit ally.
The desert below the hawk had become a churning mass of clouds, engulfing the oasis and the dunes beyond. Pemba bid the hawk look to the west but his vision revealed no break in the turmoil. Amidst the desert storm there was nothing to be done but to sit it out. But, there was something strange at work here. Within the roar of the wind Pemba thought he could hear voices. The old diviner listened intently, trying to make out what was being said. After a moment he opened his eyes and moved from the entrance to sit with the two women. He leaned in close to Demuz to make his voice heard.
“This is no ordinary storm”, he said, “there is something in its midst, I can hear it”.
Demuz closed her eyes and concentrated her mind on the sounds that surrounded the tent.
“It is how it is sometimes Pemba”, she said, her eyes still closed, “you are right though, I feel it too.” She opened her eyes and looked to her apprentice. “Sapha, was this what you saw in your dreaming?”
Sapha put her hand to her ear and nodded in confirmation. She leant over to retrieve her divining bag and drew a small tablet of stone from it. Reaching into her robe she produced small pouch and pulling a finger of charcoal from it drew two symbols on the stone. They were identical to the symbols that Tuq had recognised, one of which he had tattooed on his arm. This one was shaped like a thin triangular pinnacle with a wavey line emerging vertically from its point, a second horizontal one snaking across the middle of the symbol. She looked intently at the two old diviners.
Both Demuz and Pemba knew what this symbol signified, but, the other was unknown to Pemba. He pointed at it with his chin, an enquiring look on his face.
“That is a symbol that belongs to the People of the Dead, Pemba”, Demuz said with a grave look. “It is old, but not of the age of our own language which we have carried from the beginning. We know that its origins are tied up with the desert, but, its meaning is elusive….save the fact that it has destruction at its heart. There are few that can say more”. The symbol took the form of a central disc with three wide rays radiating from it.
Aké had pulled Pemba’s blanket around him and lay curled up beneath it in a shallow hollow, the storm raging over him. The wind swirled violently around him tugging at the blanket. He was breathing hard, the air above him thick with dust and noise, and the pain in his ribs was beginning to gnaw at his mind. For a brief moment he thought that he could hear someone calling through the storm, but, he reassured himself that it must be another of the desert’s illusions.
For a young boy on his way to becoming a man, being brought up in the savannah and forests, there were no memories to draw upon that would tell him what to do in this situation. It was entirely alien to him. He tried to think but the chaos that surrounded him made it impossible – he could only wait it out and hope. But, as he lay there holding on to the blanket with all his might, another sense within him began to emerge. His mind began to still and a curious calmness enfolded him. Aké listened more deeply and this time he was certain of it – from the heart of the wind a voice was calling him.
He heard his name, as if coming from a great distance, and then it was swallowed up in a multitude of voices that spoke in a tongue he did not recognise. The voices rose and fell, coming in waves, increasing with each pulse until a continuous chant seemed to almost drown out the wind itself. The strange face he had seen in his vision of the oasis appeared briefly in his mind again and immediately the chanting ceased. He could not tell if it was his mind playing a trick but a powerful deep voice suddenly said a single word. “Moqsula!”
And then, as if the word had cast a spell upon the storm the wind began to calm. Within a few minutes all was deathly still and silent.
Aké lay there, motionless, not knowing if he had fallen into a vision or not. He felt Pemba’s blanket resting on his body and slowly released his grip on it. Lifting a corner her peered tentatively from beneath it, his eyes widening at what he saw. Where there had been nothing but soft sand he now saw red earthy ground dappled with patches of gravel and rock streaked with dust. He listened carefully before throwing off the blanket and looking around. The valley was unrecognisable. The dunes around him had now closed off the valley forming an ampitheatre in the shape of a teardrop but at its centre was a flat area of open ground. Then he looked again at what had tripped him up.
A long post was bent over towards him, almost touching the ground. It terminated in a curious flat triangular form, looking for all the world like a totem with a tent shaped head. He could not tell what the post and its head piece were made of, but, it was smooth and shiny at its edges. He noticed that the corners of the head were twisted reminding Aké of a tent flap caught by the wind, as if frozen in time. Around the pole a length of the barbed vine snaked in a loose spiral and reached up over the triangle ending in the snag that had caught his foot. The post was embedded in a hard edged lump of smooth rock, only it was unlike any rock Aké had ever seen before. Whatever it was it had given him crucial protection and where he had huddled the sand still lay. It formed a nest in the shape of his body stretched into a long thin rippling dune by the wind.
He gingerly rose to his feet and found that his ribs had stopped aching, not even a twinge. If that was not curious enough, when Aké saw the other side of the triangle he caught his breath. A very peculiar symbol covered its surface and the sight of it made him feel suddenly anxious…..a central disc in black, three wide rays fanning out from it amidst a bright yellow field, with a black border following the edge of the triangle.
Pemba and Demuz were staring at each other, unsure of what they were hearing. The storm had subsided, but, with a suddenness that defied their senses. Sapha was already rising to open the tent flap before either of the elders spoke. It had become unnaturally quiet.
“Take care now Sapha”, said Demuz slowly rising to her feet, “whatever that was it was not like any habūb I have ever known….”
“I must find Tuq” said Pemba as he came to the tent flap. Sapha lifted it for him and he stepped slowly out. He was greeted by a brilliant light under clear deep blue skies, and the oasis was surprisingly unchanged to his eyes. People were emerging from their tents, the animals were shaking off the dust, and going from tent to tent Pemba asked if Tuq had been with them during the storm. No-one had seen him. Pemba strode to the western edge of the oasis and surveyed the desert, but, there was no sign of Tuq.
Aké ran his hand over the surface of the pole and found it smooth, hard and surpisingly cool under his fingers – and, it shone in the sunlight. He gently touched one of the barbs on the vine, but, this was like no living plant, or, he felt, ever had been living. It was as hard as the pole and wickedly sharp.
At that moment a noise behind him made Aké jump and he spun on his heal to see a tall man dressed in the dark robe of a desert dweller standing at the crest of the dune. The stranger raised his hand and called out.
Aké felt a wave of relief course through him at the sound of his name, but, when the stranger began descending the face of the dune he quickly gathered up his belongings and turned to put the post between himself and the stranger. When he turned back the man was no longer in sight.
Aké blinked and shook his head, but, the valley was deserted.
“I must be dreaming”, he muttered to himself and waited a moment, half expecting the stranger to suddenly rematerialise. But, he was alone again, and, checking to see that he had all his belongings, he began to climb the dune towards the place he had seen the stranger. When he reached the crest his confusion deepened as he could find no tracks in the sand. He glanced around and then looked briefly back at the curious totem. There was no-one to be seen, but, it was then that he saw something that made his heart leap. A green line rippled just beyond the dunes in the middle distance. “Those are treetops….” he exclaimed with sudden surprise. He rubbed his eyes, but, it was no illusion. “The oasis!”
The young initiate now had no doubt about his direction and broke into an urgent stride in the direction of the green streak amidst the dunes. As he walked he began to notice how everything seemed unusually clear, as if radiating with its own light. He stopped momentarily to look down at his feet and saw the sand sliding away, looking for all the world like gold dust. He knelt down and ran his fingers over its surface. It felt like sand, but, he could see every particle with astonishing clarity and for a moment became mesmerised by its beauty.
Something had happened to him and he realised that he was not only seeing things differently but was hearing and feeling all around him in an unusually sensitive way. He could hear the golden grains of sand as he shifted his feet, whispering softly as it fell away. Everything had become so immediate, as if it were all a part of him, intimately connected with him through his feelings. But, when he connected with his feelings they too began to shift, like the golden sand, reforming themselves into a sense of fullness and solidity he had never experienced before. He felt bigger, much bigger than before, as though he had grown beyond his skin and was being touched by all that surrounded him. He almost had a sense of seeing through someone elses eyes….or something elses.
As he moved the world moved with him and flooded his senses with an ecstatic feeling of belonging. Whatever it was that had happened to Aké he found a great joy accompanying each new sensation. Then it occured to him – this joy was not his alone. He felt held, supported by a great energy field that surged through his body and, at the heart of that energy an even stronger sense was beginning to emerge. The sense of belonging was deepening into a sense of knowing. It was almost as if he understood the sand, the clear radiant sky, the rippling shapes within the desert – the world was speaking to him.
Aké picked up his pace and felt a rush of elation as he crested the next dune and saw once again the green ripple of treetops, much closer now. He felt weightless as he rushed down the dune and effortlessly crested the next, and the next. He was sure he must be very close now, that this must be the last ridge of sand before the oasis revealed itself, but, as he was nearing the top he heard a voice, coming from far above….the cry of a hawk.
Aké looked up in time to see a small speck high above the desert moving swiftly away beyond the crest. He scrambled up the steep slope, but, was stopped in his tracks when someone called out. Standing on the crest a short way off to his left was the stranger.
‘Chenge and the Spider’ & ‘Riddles Within Riddles’ © Rob Purday 2013-16
She gathered the night about her as the Sun set. The lodge was wreathed in brilliant light as the solar disc descended, but, within, Her work was just beginning. Stillness wrapped a cloak of darkness around the wise woman as she knelt to speak with the ancestral spirits at the hearth stone. She felt for the warm heart of embers at the core of their shrine, the sacred fire. She listened for the song they were singing……and, slowly kindling the flame, the song began to work its magic and issue from her mouth. The spirits came, luminous orbs of blue and quick-fire red, and Her heart glowed with their presence. As the last rays of daylight died away and cloaked the land in mystery, she let the song fade back into silence and smiled. It was time……
…..many moons ago I had awoken beneath a bower of wysteria to find Magpie Woman, the old mother Aluna, tending this very same fire. It was the beginning of my journey with her, but, how I had come to be there was a mystery ~ all I knew was that, the night before, the spirits of the fire had called me into the heart of their realm as grandmother had opened the ancestral dream path. Our village had been blessed by her coming, but, as we soon found out, she had also given the people fair warning. She had come to us in the midst of a long journey, searching for those who would follow and learn her ways, but, it was fire of a different kind that had set her off on the search. She was carrying a precious treasure to safety and, as the moons passed, she began to tell me the story.
“……we were a peaceful people, carrying a long memory of who we were and where we had come from, my daughter. The first glimmer of news that this was to change had come from the star-dreamers, the spirits of the ancestral sky fires had given them the signs. The Puridai, our tribal great grandmother, who oversaw the affairs of all the clans, called to council all the surrounding settlements and it was decided that together, as a people, we must leave early for our winter strongholds. Each would make their way to the hills above the plains – from there we would be able to keep watch in safety.
“….we knew the world we inhabited was changing, we had seen the stars moving by different paths. It was a subtle thing at first, speaking only to the eyes of the far-seers and star dreamers, but, the omens began to build. It was the time of the Spider Moon and the trees were turning red and gold at the beginning of their own journey to dream with the heart of the Earth Mother. She had been generous to us that year and provided us with food and skins enough to last well beyond our time at the strongholds, but, it was this very generosity that alerted the Alunas. The Mother always provides for what is coming….the Alunas agreed, this would be a long hard winter.”
Magpie Woman’s ways, like all the Alunas, always held the people at their heart, so, I was puzzled and had asked, “why did you leave, grandmother, did something send you out of the village….?” Her eyes looked into the far distance as She recounted Her journey.
“We had seen great flocks of migrating birds travelling south, so many in numbers that the sound of their wings and cries travelled before them. But, we first heard news of other travellers when the far-seers told of people coming over the high passes, many people, they had said, carrying their villages with them…..and, once they began arriving, the seeing of the Aluna’s was confirmed. The northerners told us of dangerous spirits abroad in the land, of a creeping fog, freezing everything in its path, that was spreading across the plains to the north. They had heard strange sounds carried on the wind, groaning and deep drumming, as though the Mother too was pulling Herself up by the roots. Their hunters had met with the people of the far north, people who always came south following the migrating herds as the Moons became brighter than the day, but, they to were travelling much further south than was known within the living memory of the people. And, as their news came to our council fires the dreaming itself began to change, and within this we were gifted with a warning…..the Earth Mother was drawing a mantle about herself, as if preparing to enter the long sleep of the winter dreamers.”
I knew of the winter dreamers, from stories told by our elders that had been passed down from long ago…..but, in our lands the people had seen few signs of such great change; I wanted to know if such change was coming to us all…..Magpie Woman reassured me that such change was not the threat, it had always been known within the traditions carried by the rememberers, but, protecting the dreaming was Her concern. She had made Her journey, following the songs of the land, as her spirits instructed Her….
“A man of the plains north of the mountains, one of the spirit seers named Bear Walking, entered our campment at that time and shared his medicines with us….I will never forget the news he brought to us. The land beyond the mountains had fallen out of balance and people were dying, especially the young and old, and some had disappeared altogether, leaving no trace…..he told us that, while his seeing remained strong, his medicines had begun to lose their power and after the advice of his totem, the Great Bear, had decided to follow the birds and leave his lands. He had struck out with only the company of his trusted spirits……in the dreaming, he had discovered, many of the totems had advised the same and he wondered if this might account for some of the missing people…..he suggested I do the same……”
Magpie Woman must have caught my thoughts all too easily for she quickly reached over and took up my hands,
“….do not be affeared my daughter, those people did the very thing they knew would protect the people first, and trusted the spirits to look after themselves….whether their bodies perished or not, they took to the spirit road alive and in full possession of their minds and hearts, and travel there still….such things are in our kenning…..”
She had let her words sink in and waited for my response. I had no inkling of the meaning of these words at that time and soon the questions came. I sensed that this was somehow connected with the treasure she was guarding and pressed her, “but, is that how you came to our village, grandmother?” My question brought a smile to the wisened face of my mentor….
“…..yes, that is why you are here my daughter, you know how to ask the right questions and, at the right time, you too will find your own answers…..”
I felt a pang of disappointment, wanting the answers now, but, it soon passed when she picked up the thread of her story again.
“…..I had taken Bear Walking’s advice and received an answer in kind ~ my path lay south, and, like him, I was to carry the heart of the village to safety. His totem holds council with the Mother through the winter dreaming and She had spoken through the Great Bear. We follow the path of spirit and accepting their guidance is at the core of our ways, my daughter….it is our way.” She let out a deep sigh. “You will learn, it is the very reason I am here, to make sure that you understand…..”
In the months that followed Magpie Woman taught me the ancient ways of healing that the Great Mother had provided for us, the use of plants, preparations and the protocols surrounding them, how the plants and animals each had their own song, and when to use them, and when not….She had instructed me in the art of tracking, both through the reading of worldly signs and through senses that the plants themselves opened up through their use. We walked the land gathering all we needed to feed ourselves, both in kenning and in body, and slowly I began to understand that She was leading me into deeper and more intimate relationships with the world into which I had been born. She had been preparing me, without my knowing it, for our journey. And, She was wily….She had been observing everything, so that, when the time came, She would know which allies could help me on my own path and, through this, when I would be ready…..but, for what? I was about to find out ~ the time had come!
After nine moons the world in which I walked had become very different to the one I had grown up in, amongst the familiar smells, sights and sounds of my village. I had been free to visit with the poeple and bring gifts, healing salves and soft skins, and even talked of the pathway of learning itself. But, one morning I had seen an augery, a host of black Cranes flying south had passed just above the pines that lined the shore where I had been gathering shellfish, and, amidst their cries and the sweeping sound of their wings I had heard the call of grandmother’s own bird, the Magpie, laughing and cackling in the tree-tops, just as I had heard them on the night that Magpie Woman had first come to our village ~ sensing the turn in the road, a more urgent feeling emerged in my heart, that I should visit with my clan once more….on telling of the Cranes and Magpies and hearing my concerns I was surprised to see Magpie Woman smile with delight.
“Well, you are right my daughter, and I am pleased….you are learning fast! You are seeing clearly with your heart, beyond this time and, yes, the moment is upon us….we must leave this land very soon. Go, to your people and give them your leave daughter; neither you nor I can say when you will return and this you must also tell them….ask for their blessings. On dark moon we open a new road…..”
It had been so easy until now, and I had become wrapped in a sense of security as I learned the medicine ways, but, the reality of this journey had suddenly come home….and, I knew this was the end of the beginning. I was now either to follow this path into the unkown or leave it for good. Grandmother’s story had itself been preparation for this moment. She had told me much, but, what had happened after she had left her village, she had never fully disclosed to me.
“Come to the lodge after darkness has fallen, daughter ~ the waning moon is folding her dark robes about her and we must work with her to open a crack in the worlds. Now, go and make peace with those you love.”
It was not until I had entered the village under the midday sun that I knew where my choice would take me ~ and, it came as a surprise to myself to hear the words coming from my lips, but, as I told my family of my intent to follow the path and continue my journey with Magpie Woman, where-ever it may lead, I knew with an uncanny certainty, for all the tears and sadness that our farewells brought, that it was the right choice. As the Sun dipped towards the horizon and I began to leave the village I heard footsteps on the path behind ~ under the bows of the forest at the edge of the village I turned to find the women’s chief elder running to catch up, a bundle in her arms.
“Wait young one….wait….before you make an old woman lose her breath….”
She came to my side and, taking a moment to compose herself, smiled as she held the bundle before me. “It is a part of the path you are upon…..we have been careful to hold it in your stead since Magpie Woman took you under her wing…..we knew this day would come. Now a part of this village must travel with you into the world, an ancient talisman, that came to us as it is now coming to you…..”
I was suddenly filled with questions, but, She bid me not to unwrap the bundle until I had returned to Magpie Woman. As I held the skin-wrapped bundle, darkened with oil and quite damp to the touch, it began to radiate with warmth and for all the world felt as if it were a living being.
I looked from the bundle to the old woman and she nodded, saying….”yes, it is a mystery, but, one the grandmother will know and understand ~ She may well be surprised, however, when she finds out what we have given to you.” And, smiling, she reached into the folds of her wrap and pulled out a small pouch of white fur.
“This, I have been making for you these nine Moons……just as the elder mother of our village made one for me when I was your age…..She will protect you on your journey. Here let me put the pouch safe in your robe….”
The beautiful soft fur pouch tucked safely away, the old woman, leaning in close to kiss my cheeks, raised her eyebrows and said, “….well, go on my girl….you have a date with your destiny……” and, as she turned and walked slowly back down the forest path, called out…..”fair you well, young one…..blessed be, blessed be…..”
As I came to the lodge, the Sun spreading a ruby and emerald blanket across the sky, I found Magpie Woman emerging from the low doorway, singing one of her medicine songs…..She looked me up and down, taking in the bundle with a raised eyebrow, and bid me follow as the night wrapped its dark robe about the land…..
The smell of juniper and sweet resin mingled with the smokey air within the lodge and a feint glow nestled in the hearth at its centre, barely illuminating the smooth river stones that surrounded it. I sat at the hearth side, as grandmother bid me, and watched as She gathered up her own medicine bundle from the back of the lodge.
“I first met with the Puridai of your village when we were both fresh from our initiation path, daughter ~ she is a carrier of women’s medicines that are sacred to all the peoples and is a wise woman in the ways of the Moon. It is good that she gave you her blessing…..”
I had not known that the two old women were kin in spirit, let alone that they knew each other, but, I also wondered how Magpie Woman had known that it was the women’s chief elder who had made her gifting to me, but, coming to the fire and placing her bundle at its side, She continued….
“….yes, I too was surpised when I saw her face in the circle on the night I arrived…..it was a good sign, one I had not foreseen, but, such is the way of things…..”
She had pulled down the flap on the lodge entrance and brought a small clay lamp of tallow and woven nettle wick to the fire side. With a strand of straw She kindled a flame from the fire’s embers and soon the little lamp cast a luminous glow in our midst.
“This gift is precious that you now carry, of that you can be assured….but, before you open it…..”, taking her divination bag from her bundle,“….lets just see who else is with us this night. Once again the spirits will be our guides…..”
She unwound the leather strap and let the fine tanned skin fall away, smoothing it out upon the floor between us. In the midst of the skin was a small mound of strange objects – I gazed in wonder at them as they slowly revealed their shapes. There was an assortment of bones, some bleached and white as the sickle Moon, others blackened by fire and burnished with age, and, amongst these I began to pick out more ambiguous shapes, stones perhaps, shells or polished pieces of wood…..Magpie woman smudged them with juniper smoke and said…..
“Take up the bones, my daughter, and let me remove those you do not gather…..then cast them onto the skin”
She began to hum a simple melody as I placed my hands on the bones and, scooping up a handful, held them above the skin. She swept the remainder up and put them in the folds of her lap. Her song washed over me and small blue iridescent sparks of light flew swiftly around my hands. I let the bones fall…..the old woman leaned in, singing to the bones as she began to search amongst them for signs.
“Ahhh, white deer running…..jumps the waters……keeps her feet dry……finds her clan…..under the sign of the Sky Bear, under cloak of night…..”
Her words enfolded in the melody, the bones shimmered and I felt something move deep within, a memory in the shape of a feeling, as She continued….
“….the fire of the ancestors is guiding you dear, a red bone with a star stone…..a far journey led by starlight……there’s an offering in this, see there….”
Her boney finger pointed at a small bead of polished red wood. The bundle that I had been given flashed into my mind.
“Willow mother…..holds you fair…..ocean brother, brings you there…..a gathering of crows and and ravens, a council fire in the Mother’s haven…..”, and, with this She stopped and gently pushed a stout finger bone aside, and looking up, said….” see this, shoulder blade of the Mole – she sets a seed within your kenning, fireseed, from the Mother’s body – sister Mole is the Bear’s teacher my dear, and she is resting beneath him here…….you are carrying a great responsibility!….perhaps we should see what the Puridai has given you my daughter. I have a feeling there is more to this seed than meets my old eyes!”
I reached for the oiled skin bundle and brought it to my lap. After a moment I felt a warmth radiating from its interior…..the moment felt familiar, like an old, long forgotten memory emerging.
“The augeries are clear”, the grandmother said, “this journey will take you to a very special place, there will be a moot there, under earth and dark sky, many people, keepers of the laws and ways, medicines and spirits….we will journey from the Bay of Willows, following the ocean path……this is a journey that will take us far beyond my own lands, a journey to a land I have known of, but, never undertaken…..something is being returned to the land, held in safety and kept for those who come after us……and, you are blessed by the running deer……”
She held me with a powerful gaze of deep love and I watched as she seemed to settle into her body, as if a thousand Moons of fatigue were being lifted from her shoulders, “….I have heard something of this land, the land of the running deer…..it has roots as old as ours, but, the winds and signs speak another tongue in that place……it is good, it is good…….yes, the land of the White Deer…..now, I am wondering if this gift you have been entrusted with is what I hope it is”
Magpie woman nodded at the bundle in my lap. It had become quite warm and, as I gently unwrapped its leathers, a dry heat began to emerge from its heart…..a layer of compacted wild strawberry leaves concealed an inner wrapping of skin that had been coated with a dark sticky unguent that looked like tar mixed with sand, losely closed about the mystery at its heart. The rich aroma of pitch and charcoal suddenly rose from the bundle as a bright red nugget became visible in its midst.
“Ahhh, yes! This is no small matter my daughter…..and, we must be careful to keep it alive, for you are holding the heart of your village…..”
I gasped at these words, and felt the weight of them settle upon my own heart.
“….by the fires of the ancestors, the spirits have spoken and you are truly blessed ~ do you know what this is child?”
I knew it was hot, that, were I to touch it, it would almost certainly burn my skin, but…..just what in its nature it was, I had no clue.
“Take a good look daughter and then wrap this precious bundle carefully a moment. It must not be allowed to cool too much…”
The glowing light and warmth of the fiery kernel in my hands seemed to whisper, ancient soothing words, and I watched entranced as small bursts of orange light pulsed from beneath its surface. I felt soft waves of sound, words I did not recognise, breathing into me and in that moment saw a circle of people in a great lodge, moving slowly around a mighty Oak that grew at its center. Branches grew around me and tawny feathers covered my hands as I looked down from the crown of the great tree…..then, with the sound of Magpie Woman’s voice, the image receded and we were once again sitting by the hearth of our little lodge….
“Good, it is speaking to you……this my dear is a talisman of the ancient fire, the first fire, and I wouldn’t wonder if your Puridai, waiting for a day such as this, has kept a small part of her in her own keeping, its sister…..she meant you to have it from the first night, I now know……wise old bird!” She nodded gently for me to close up the wrappings again and said, “I will teach you of its nature, for it is unknown to all but those who carry and tend such a talisman, and….”, She reached over to the fire and stirred its embers, “…there, can you see….this is the heart of my own village….she lives on yet, her own sister still kept by our Puridai ~ this is one of the treasures I have been carrying. I too have been entrusted with its well-being…..”
Within the heart of the embers I could see a ball of fierce carnelian light, embedded within the glowing coals. I wondered how this had come to be ~ that we were both carrying these precious things was surely not by any foreseeable design. But, my question was answered almost as I thought it….
“We are guided by the spirits my dear, even though we may not know it…..every turn in the path is known to them, far into time and across the lands….but, this is the medicine of the Great Mother herself at work. She is calling us to bring her inner light to safety.”
I placed the heart of the village at the hearth side and, as I leant over, did not notice as the small white fur pouch tumbled from my wraps. I had forgotten all about it, but, when I looked up Magpie Woman was looking directly at me,
“Well, I think you may have another secret to unfold daughter……”, she said, her eyebrows raised as she dropped her gaze to the ground in front of me. My eyes widened and I caught my tongue as I realised what had happened.
“Oh…yes, this…..the Puridai gave this to me as well….”, I involuntarily picked up the white fur pouch and held it to my chest. “I had almost forgotten…..”
Magpie Woman had a knowing look on her face as she said, “…and….”
I smiled a little sheepishly as I nodded and quickly began to unfasten the bone clasp. A gasp escaped my lips as a gleam of white appeared inside…
“…..grandmother…..its”, but I could not finish as a wave of deep longing suddenly engulfed me and, as I slowly pulled the precious object from its pouch, a tear rolled down my cheek…..in my hand was a perfect carving of the Mother, her rounded belly and swollen breasts beautifully carved in creamy white ivory, her legs coming to a single point beneath her.
Magpie Woman nodded slowly and drew a deep breath……
“Your task, my daughter, is greater than I thought…..come, bring the Heart of your Village to the fire and let it join with my own…..and, the Mother….keep Her next your skin….one day She will find her Earth, and you will….”, but, Magpie Woman hesitated as a bright blue luminous orb of light hung momentarily in the air between us. Puckering her chin as She considered the spirit’s intervention, she said, “….well, that too, it seems, will be revealed when the time is right!”
…….find out what happens as the journey takes Magpie Woman and her young ward to the Land of the Running Deer, in the third and final part of the story, as the light of the inner Sun, the Heart of the Mother, returns to the world…..
Image of Gaia : Mother Earth Dreaming, Susan Seddon Boulet
The first part of this story, ‘Dancing in the Dark’, can be found here……
“……..I leave no trace…..shadowless, I see all…..I am the eye in the Sun……”
It was the silence that awoke him. There had been voices, rising and falling, reverberating as one sound, but, far off and indistinct, like a crowded market place heard as if from a hill top high above. The sound breathed, rising like a flock of birds on waves of warm air, before sinking back into the earth like rain on parched ground. Then, suddenly, there was silence.
The first thing Ake felt was soft fine sand between his fingers. He opened his eyes and blinked rapidly in the scorching white light. Then he saw it. Resting on the back of his hand, an iridescent blue dragonfly. It was larger than any he had seen before and was so shockingly beautiful that, in that moment, Ake wondered if he was still dreaming….until, the wondrous insect bobbed slightly and, quickly hovering away over his head, was lost to sight.
He turned, craning his neck, trying to follow the dragonfly’s flight, but, it had disappeared over the crest of the dune……then, all at once, it hit Ake. He was surrounded by sand, nestled in a hollow near the top of a sweeping crescent. He leapt to his feet, confused and more than a little frightened.
‘Where am I……..!?’ he spoke out loud. There was no answer……
‘How did I get here?! Where is Pemba…..?’
But, he was alone. And this place, it was so hot……he felt the sun on his back, beginning to burn. His eyes began to smart with salt tears and Ake felt his toes curl as a wave of fear rose up through his body. But, the feeling of something against the side of his foot made him gasp.
He jumped involuntarily and, looking down, saw that his head had been resting on the diviners bag, Pemba’s red woollen blanket folded neatly underneath it. He was momentarily reassured and, shaking his head with a sigh, he bent down to touch the precious talismans. But, the sound from Ake’s dream was still fresh in his mind and, with it, he remembered the dragonfly. It had been there on his hand when he had opened his eyes, he was sure of it, but, for a brief moment he wondered if a part of his dream had leaked into the daylight. The sudden compulsion to follow the insect’s flight pulled him out of his thoughts and he crawled on all fours towards the crest of the dune. When he reached the top the sight that met his young eyes was unlike any Ake had ever seen before.
An ocean of sand stretched as far as he could see, majestic and terrifying. Ake had a sense that it was not too long after sunrise, but, even though the sun was not high in the sky, the light and heat was intense. He’d never before left the savanah and the land surrounding him was completely alien to Ake. He turned slowly, surveying the parched horizon. Rippling away as far as he could see seemingly endless shimmering golden dunes were cut with deep shadows. Off to what he guessed was the north the pattern of the dunes was interrupted by a wider valley, but, Ake could see no trees or shrubs anywhere that might give him shade. There was not a living thing to be seen.
But, the dragonfly……there must be water nearby, and……he struggled with a half forgotten memory that wanted to emerge…..he was sure that he had heard someone talking about dragonflies only a few days ago. Ake shook his head and, confronted with the silence of the vastness surrounding him, suddenly felt the need to call out.
The sound of his voice in the midst of the vast desert only made him feel smaller and more alone. A tear ran down his cheek and he absent mindedly caught it with the tip of his tongue. Suddenly very thirsty, he retraced his steps, knelt by the divining bag and carefully felt beneath the blanket. The sand below was deliciously cool and soon his fingers felt the stone like smoothness of the drinking gourd. ‘Just a sip now, brother Ake…’ he heard Pemba’s voice in his mind.
‘Pemba’, he said softly as he put the stopper back in the gourd and tied it securely.
It may have been the taste of the clear spring water that triggered his memory, or perhaps it was the thought of Pemba’s advice, but, Ake suddenly remembered where he had heard about the dragonflies. It was Pemba himself who had told him. He had been recounting his own journey to the oasis as a young man. This had been a part of Pemba’s own initiation, but, initiation was far from Ake’s mind in that moment – the oasis was the meeting place Pemba had said they must travel to and medicine people from all directions would be gathering there.
The thought of the meeting was curiously re-assuring to Ake. It almost made sense of his being here, surrounded by desert. But, he had no recollection of the journey that had brought him! And, where was he? Was he close to the oasis – he must at least try and find out.
Gathering up the diviner’s bag, shaking out and refolding the blanket, he returned to the top of the dune and tried to decide on the best direction to go in. He looked back at where he had been sleeping. There were no footprints, save his own, but, he could not see a trail telling which direction he might have come from either.
It was instinct that said he must move, and, since it did not look as though Pemba had been there, he felt there was no choice. Ake looked down the face of the dune below. This was the direction he had last seen the dragonfly heading towards, and so, he carefully began to descend into its shadow. The sand was quite cool out of the sunlight, and he relished the feeling of it around his feet as it seemed to freshen his mind. Just as he came to the bottom of the slope he had another realisation. They had been in the Spider Mother’s cave when Pemba had begun talking about the meeting and had told Ake about the magical beauty of the oasis. He stopped in his tracks and thought hard……
….slowly the memory came back to him and, with it, a strong feeling that he should head north.
Just at that moment a movement to his left caught his attention. At first he put it off as a trick of the light, a passing shadow, but, there it was again. Some ten feet away, and running straight towards him, was a beetle. No bigger than his thumb and very dark against the sand, the beetle came to within two feet of Ake and stopped. He leant towards it and, quite naturally, said ‘hello, little one’. A shimmer of dark green iridescence glanced off the beetle’s shell. ‘Do you know where the dragonfly went’ he thought, half to himself, half asking the little creature.
The beetle waved its antennae, seemingly in response, and, after a moment, began digging a hole in the sand. That was it! Images quickly flashed across his mind as Ake felt a wave of recognition and the memory of the day Pemba had talked about the oasis came flooding back…..
……before he knew it, his minds-eye opened wide, Ake was back in the Grandmother Spider’s cave. They had gone to her shrine.
With the spider’s help the night before, Ake had found the secret cave that housed her shrine. It had been the second evening of his grandfather’s funeral and he had been given his true name, as a part of his heritage. The other part of that precious gift was his grandfather’s divining bag. He could not resist opening it, and that was when it had all begun. But, he was sure that it was his grandfather’s doing that he was now on the path of initiation, following the Spider Mother’s path. She had led him to her shrine safely, but, the night had also revealed the great danger now threatening his people. Pemba had revealed the strange object to him that he and his grandfather had found on the edge of the desert and he recalled with a wince Pemba’s description of its owners, the People of the Dead. But, with his mentor close by, high up in the escarpment where the ancestors are buried, he had felt safe and protected from the storm that had raged over the land that night.
Sleep had taken him quickly and, at first light, he had awoken to find the Spider’s Cave still and calm. The storm had passed, erased with the dawning day, but, Pemba was nowhere to be seen. He had left a small pile of freshly picked fruit next to the fire’s simmering ashes. After splashing cool water from the gourd upon his face and hands, he had picked a couple of small green fruit from the pile and made his way to the cave entrance to greet the day.
A subtle mist was rising from the plains as the world emerged from its night journey. Above, in the growing light a pair of cranes flew out of the south and, high above the caves, sent a plaintive cry to the world below. An orange white shaft of light spilled over the horizon, the treetops below Ake’s perch at the cave entrance suddenly becoming adorned with a golden brilliance.
In those first few moments he had sat in awe of the beauty that flooded his senses, oblivious to the events of the previous night. This was the world he knew, comforting in its familiarity. As he heard the calling cranes and watched them fly overhead the thought crossed Ake’s mind that he too would soon be travelling north. Pemba had told him that a meeting of the medicine people had been called at a hidden oasis, deep in the desert, and they were bound to go. The path of Ake’s initiation was inextricably interwoven with the journey. He felt his heart flutter briefly as the memories returned of his grandfather, the dreams that had called him to this place, and the unfathomably strange object that Pemba and Grandfather Ake had found….the day suddenly took on a different dimension, became an horizonless field of uncertainty and questions. The People of the Dead! Who were they, what were they, how had this all come to be – Ake struggled to confront the reality that was now challenging his world. The world he knew was itself being called into question……
“I can see that you are beginning to wake up…..”
The voice came from behind Ake, but, the familiar tones of his guardian and mentor quickly washed away the uneasy feeling that had begun to gnaw at his belly…..and Pemba’s words seemed to be asking for a response. But, Ake could find none, save a smile and outstretched arms as he turned to meet his old friend. A hug when troubled with doubts is always good medicine, but, Pemba could tell that his protege was also beginning to feel the veils of innocence fall away. It was always like this. Initiation was a never ending affair in this world.
Pemba sat beside his young ward and nodded in recognition of the task ahead……
“I took the path into the desert once, when I was, well, not much older than yourself, younger brother…..it was a journey that your grandfather and I had to make, as a part of our own initiation.” He looked off towards the glowing horizon. “There is a place in the heart of that vastness that is filled with birdsong….tall palms line a pool of fresh clear tourquoise water, so sweet and refreshing to taste, and dragonflies hover and dart like mischevious spirits at its heart. Who would believe such beauty could be found in the midst of the desert heat. Being there is like being under a delicious spell within a dream……”
Pemba’s words cast their own magic in Ake’s imagination and seemed to cleanse his heart of its burdens. He began to relax as the world below returned to his sight and added its own beauty to the vision Pemba was spinning.
“We must prepare before we set off to find that place……I’ve made an offering at the Spider’s shrine to open our path, but, you must do the same before we leave. Come….this too is a special place…..”, and Pemba smiled impishly as he rose, offering a hand to Ake…..that smile was infectious and, jumping to his feet, Ake followed his mentor towards the back of the cave and the crack in the rock.
He watched as Pemba picked up a half burned stub of cut wood from the fire-pit, and, briefly stirring the embers with its charcoaled end, let it rest a moment in the glowing ash, then, lifting it close to his mouth, he blew on it. The branch radiated a warm red and orange light and, with a second breath, a small dancing flame emerged from its tip. Pemba tilted the little torch and encouraged the flame to grow slightly. Satisfied with the result, the old diviner turned with a nod to follow and, holding the torch before him, eased into the fissure in the rock…..
“…..this will serve to light the short way to the other side Ake…..its quite easy, c’mon…”, Pemba’s voice echoed uncannily from within the rock.
Ake could see Pemba ahead of him in dark silhouette as he entered the crack. The rock was smooth at his sides, as if an age of watery hands had sculpted it, and the narrow floor of the fissure was softened with a sediment of silt and small stones…..
After following Pemba for a few seconds, his breath held and his heart beating in anticipation, Ake saw his mentors outline merge with the rock off to the right….yet he could still see the soft glow of the torch ahead. Hurrying to catch up he came to the point where the crack in the rock turned a sharp corner and then continued straight for a few steps. He saw Pemba disappear once more as the passage-way turned again, this time to the left. A cool breath of wind brushed Ake’s cheeks as he turned the second corner. The floor of the passage tilted sharply downwards and levelled out about ten steps ahead.
As he approached the bottom of the incline the back of Pemba’s legs became visible ahead, but, Ake had not anticipated what was to meet his eyes once he arrived at his mentor’s side! A ledge that ran off to the left and right formed the lip of an immense chasm echoing with his footfall as Ake came to its edge. A diffuse light radiated down from an invisible source in the roof of the vast chamber giving a soft luminescence to the rocks below. It took Ake’s breath away as he took in the sight. Every few moments a small droplet of water fell from the ceiling of the cave, each a luminous pearl free-falling in space. Ake then became aware of a gentle sussurus in the background. Somewhere, far beneath them, off in an unseen part of the mountain, an underground river was in full speight……
” …..the shrine is down there Ake….” Pemba whispered, taking a step closer to the edge of the ledge, gesturing with his chin for Ake to take a look. Ake tentatively peered into the chasms depths……but, before he could decide what exactly he was supposed to be seeing, by way of a shrine, Pemba turned to face him and, bringing his face closer, looked over Ake’s shoulder and quietly said, “the way down is behind you, along the ledge….let me go first”.
The rock-wall arched overhead and small stones tumbled off the ledge as they picked their way along, gradually descending – Ake caught sight of the twisted shapes of roots hanging from the ceiling of the cave, as if emerging from dark clouds…..then he realised! The whole ceiling was covered in spider’ s webs, waving in diaphanous films, like smoke hanging in night air. The atmosphere closed in and, all around them, Ake felt the presence of a thousand unseen eyes, watching their every move.
“You must be careful here…” Pemba said in hushed tones, turning to face Ake. He had his hand resting on one of the two cut ends of a massive forked branch that rested on the rim of the ledge and disappeared below. It was a ladder, like those that led to the drying and curing platforms in the village, each step a wedge deeply cut into the wood. Pemba let the torch rest on the ground and reached downwards with a foot, facing the rock-wall – he did not look at Ake, or pick up the torch, as his head slowly disappeared below the rim.
The branch held firm against the rock with its own weight and Ake tried to imagine that he was simply climbing down from a drying platform, returning to the ground below – but, he had not expected the ladder to be so long, and to begin flaring out as he descended. He wanted to look around, but, dare not stop……and then his feet touched solid rock.
Still holding the ladder with one hand he turned to find Pemba staring at him with hawk like eyes in the gathering darkness. Without a word or gesture, Pemba turned again and, following an invisible trail, confidently walked away, slowly descending into the half light. They had arrived at a shallow concave plateau that Ake quickly realised was the top of a massive boulder…..hurrying after Pemba he found that there was a path that wound its way amongst a jumble of monolithic slabs of rock, some looking for all the world like the silhouettes of giant sleeping animals. As they descended deeper into the pit of the cave the rocks became smoother, more like river stones…..and Ake became aware of the sound of the underground torrent, rising like the voices and cries of an uncountable host – the memory of his grandfathers dream message, its vision of the ocean of souls flashed across his mind. He felt himself being drawn towards its shores…….
Two strong hands grasped Ake’s shoulders and the obsidian light of two shining eyes peered with a penetrating intensity into his own. Pemba raised a finger to his lips, making a firm sign to remain absolutely quiet, slowly letting his finger fall away – the sight momentarily pulled Ake out of his vision. Pemba nodded briefly and, stepping to one side, gestured to Ake to go first.
Ahead, the pathway levelled out and then seemed to come to a halt against a wall of pitch darkness. This signalled another fissure, a cave entrance within the cave. He heard Pemba following as he slowly entered the subterranean night, his eyes scanning the darkness before him.
The hard rock beneath Ake’s feet gave way to soft fine sand and, stretching out his hands in front of him, he edged slowly forward. He began to make out very feint filaments of colour in the air ahead, but, was it a trick of the dark, a play of some inner vision that he could not put a shape or form to? He paused and strained with all his senses to find some clue as to how to go forward. A fast moving streak of green light cut across his field of vision and he suppressed a gasp as the memory flashed across his mind of the spider’s luminous thread from the previous night. Then all was still.
It was at that moment that Ake realised that he was not only standing in the midst of impenetrable darkness, but, it had become totally silent. The seering doubt of his confusion span him instinctively on his heels, and then he did gasp. He did not see the way back to the chasm as he had expected he would, instead, there was no light, anywhere. For a moment it was as if every external sense of the world, save the feeling of sand beneath his feet, had become extinguished and Ake, his head spinning with disorientation, slumped onto to the soft sand in a faint.
In the moment that he came round, Ake wondered if he was indeed awake. He blinked but there was no change to the darkness. He reached out with his hand to prop himself up, but, instead of finding sand beneath his palm he briefly layed his hand on something soft….his hand recoiled. Then he recognised the feeling that his fingers had registered…it was the divining bag. He had forgotten all about it…..but, how had it gotten here. Pemba. It must have been put there earlier by Pemba…..
He reached for the bag and, sitting up, drew it to his chest and let the comforting feeling of its familiarity fold around his heart.
The voice came like a finely settling rain of dust upon his ears…….
“See…..my little one……”
The rush of doubt that Ake felt on hearing the voice slowly gave way to a rising fire of recognition in his belly…….he knew that voice.
“It has been so long, beautiful child…..my Chenge…..see……”
Ake suddenly felt his throat constrict and he sucked in a breath, holding it as the memory rose upon a tide of emotion…….
A soft shuffling, just a few feet away to his side, pulled his head around……but he could see nothing.
“Mama….is that you….I cant see you…..”
“I am safe little one…….”
Ake hardly dared move, but, this time the voice was infront of him, and closer. The green luminous thread re-emerged before his eyes and began turning about itself, making circles and spirals that left vapour trails of cold mist in the pitch darkness. Slowly they wove a shape in the air and became an oval of softly shimmering light.
Eyes appeared, a nose and mouth, rounded cheeks, forming a face…..and then Ake knew. He was gazing in total disbelief at the face of his mother!
“I have a message for you, my little one……”
Ake was transfixed. He would so have loved to run into his mothers arms, but, there was…..only her face before him.
“Mama…….mama, what has happened…..is it really you?!”
“Listen to the Spider Mother, Chenge…..she is helping you…….I am far away, but…..we will meet again…..follow her thread, little one……”
“We will meet again, Mama? But, when….where are you……what has happened to you?”
“Look for the tall one, the white one, he bears a sign……follow the thread, little one…..”
At the mention of the ‘white one’ Ake’s heart recoiled and a feeling he had never felt before welled up in his belly. It asked him to do something, anything, to bring his mother back.
“The white one mama? Surely you don’t mean one of the people of the dead…..!”
“He bears a sign…..you will know it……follow, little one…..my Chenge….”
And with this the face began to dissolve before Ake’s eyes.
Ake heard his voice echo softly as the face slipped away into darkness. He began to weep and clutched the diviner’s bag as if it were the last memory of a world he had once known. Another soft shuffling sound broke across his grief and, suddenly realising that he could once more hear the sound of the rushing river, he jumped to his feet. But, the darkness remained.
The flash of green light cut swiftly across his eyes and left a single thread of mist suspended in the air. A thin crack of brilliant white emerged from the mist and grew into a vertical fissure in the pitch darkness that surrounded him. The crack widened and Ake could see a movement in its midst…..a figure was walking towards him. He recognised the shoulders and face of his mentor, Pemba.
“This place is the Spider’s shrine, younger brother……Ake?”
Ake was unsure of what he was seeing, he did not know whether to trust his senses.
“Ake?….what have you seen.”
The concern in Pemba’s voice was strangely reassuring and Ake felt his shoulders relax a little, the weight of the diviners bag now helping the world to solidify about him.
Pemba stopped a few steps away and cocked his head, staring at the bag……
“Well……” he seemed lost for words as he stepped closer, raising his hand to point at the diviner’s bag clutched to Ake’s chest.
“The day is full of surprises……this is most unusual….but, a good sign…..heh”
Pemba looked at Ake’s face with a soft concern. Laying his hands on Ake’s shoulders he said, “Come, tell me what happened…..we have an offering to make, but, you look as though…..”
“It was Mama, Pemba….she was here, I saw her and….she spoke to me”
“Spoke to you?!” The surprise in Pembas voice could not be disguised. The old diviner considered a moment and then, reaching behind his back for the drinking gourd he was carrying, he led Ake by the arm to the side of the cave. Ake realised that he could see the interior of the subterranean chamber quite clearly now. They were in a small oval cavity that reminded Ake of the adobe huts in which the families of his village lived. The walls were smooth and appeared to have a coating of fine clay. The back of the chamber was feintly illuminated from its entrance, but, surprisingly, Ake could see that the underground room was entirely empty.
As they rested their backs against the wall, Pemba caught the look of confusion on Ake’s face.
“I will explain…..all in good time, but….what did your mother tell you, younger brother, tell me what you want to”
Ake related everything that had happened from the moment that he had set foot into the darkness and, as his mentor listened, Pemba gave a nod at everything he heard. When Ake had come to the end of his account they sat in silence for a moment and then, offering the gourd to his young ward, Pemba let out a sigh…..
“It seems the Spider Mother has given to you a gift, brother Ake, and a gift of no small importance – I will tell you just why I am saying this after we have made the offering, if you can wait…..” and, at this Pemba rose to his feet.
A tender smile greeted Ake’s eyes as he looked up.
“….and, we must make it a special gift in return for her kindness, eh?”
Ake was surpised in the next moment to see Pemba scooping handfulls of sand to the side from the floor of the subterranian room – he was close to its center and the sand was dry, sliding slowly back in on itself. But, soon, Pemba’s hand scraped against a solid surface. He brushed the sand aside to reveal a large round circle of stone with a wedge shaped notch cut out of its edge. Pemba carefully placed his hand into the gap and with a strong pull lifted the stone away, flipping it onto its back, revealing a smaller perfectly round hole beneath……
“Bring the divining bag over Ake” he said, as he brushed the sand clean from the edge of the hole. “Now…..see what comes out” he said gesturing with his chin towards the bag…..
“…..go on, don’t be afraid…..theres something in there we need”.
Ake unwound the strap from the neck of the bag and cautiously put his hand inside. The feeling of soft fur met Ake’s fingers and, feeling his way down the sides, he found several smaller leather bags nestled together. He looked to Pemba……
Gripping the neck of one of the small bags he slowly eased it out…..it was no bigger than his fist and dyed a very dark blue that reminded Ake of the night sky.
“Ahhh…..now open it”, said Pemba, obviously intrigued at the choice.
The binding was old, but, once Ake had eased it away, a sharp odour emerged instantly from the bag, making Ake’s nose twitch.
“Take one pinch” Pemba instructed, watching carefully as his protege reached in with his thumb and fore-fingers. He pulled out a small quantity of pitch black powder, just like charcoal dust, but, very slightly oily to the touch.
“This is ‘black snuff’, though amongst the Spider people it is known as ‘night medicine’. It is one of the most valuable healing preparations we make, amongst the diviners, that is. It is for use only by those who have knowledge of its effects. Without that knowledge it is simply charcoal, to the unknowing. It seems I’ll be teaching you how to make it very soon,” Pemba said with an approving nod. Ake tried to look more closely, without dropping any of the powder.
“Is this what I am to give to the Spider mother, Pemba?”
“Well, it looks like you are being called upon to make this medicine a sign of gratitude to her, yes, but…..it needs a special song to accompany it……”
Ake looked questioningly at his mentor…….but, Pemba simply raised his eyebrows, smiling with a little nod…..
“But, which song should I sing…..?”
“Think of where we are going….and what has just happened here….then let it come out, sing it……and, remember, say thank-you to the Grandmother Spider”
Ake liked to sing, it came naturally to him, especially when he was busy with something that took time….but, he had never tried to make a song out of things that had not happened yet, or feelings as strong and deep as those that the memory of his mother had brought up in him. Then, without warning, as he was pondering these things, a single syllable of sound escaped his lips…..and before he knew it a melody was springing up in him. It seemed to accompany the images that drifted through his mind.
“Sing it into the ‘night medicine’ Ake, then give the medicine to the hole….but, keep singing until the song has run its course.”
The melody arose with a slow dignity from Ake and into the ‘night medicine’. He felt its power gently flowing through him at first, then he began swaying his body from side to side. For a moment it was as if he was sitting in the middle of a small boat on a rolling expanse of water. Stars appeared above him following the motion of the boat. He closed his eyes and let the melody pour into the night medicine. He felt his hand release the black powder into the darkness at his feet…..the song grew stronger.
A gust of wind swept strands of hair around his cheek and he opened his eyes……the stars above remained, swirling around a tall stout pole that extended above him. There was a triangular sheet of ochre skins attached to its top and bottom and Ake quickly realised he was speeding over the water in a hide covered boat, like the ones he had seen in the Lake People’s village.
“You must listen to the stars, let them give their stories to you, brother Ake,” a powerful voice sounded behind him.
Ake spun round to find his grandfather sitting at the stern, his strong old hands holding the end of a steering paddle, his eyes staring towards the heavens….for a moment Ake was speechless.
“….they will take you beyond the horizon and return you safely home.”
“Look!” And the old man pointed over Ake’s shoulder, his eyes widening.
Ake glanced involuntarily in the direction his grandfather had pointed. In that instant a single star suddenly expanded and sent out a blinding flash that stunned Ake. For a moment he could see nothing but white light. Then shapes slowly began to emerge, blurred and vague at first, and there was a tickling feeling on his cheek.
Ake shook his head and caught site of the small green iridescent beetle just as it disappeared beneath the sand. There was a sound like many voices speaking very fast, as if heard from a long way off……then the dragonfly darted over his head and stopped in mid-air just an arms length in front of Ake.
He had been lying on the cool sand, but, for how long! Where the beetle had been there was now a small conical mound of sand. It must have been only an eyeblink, yet, he felt as though it were an eternity. The dragonfly turned on its centre and a second later sped off down the valley between the dunes.
“I’m not loosing sight of you this time,” Ake said under his breath and, jumping to his feet, he slung Pemba’s blanket and the diviner’s bag over his shoulder and set off after the iridescent blue being………he did not see the swift shadow that darted away across the sand ahead of him……..
Chenge and the Spider © copyright Rob Purday 2013
The Beetle and the Dragonfly © copyright Rob Purday 2013
Look out for the continuing story of Chenge and the Spider at a new dedicated website launching soon!
……long, long time ago there lived ol’ man Coyote and his wife – they were perfectly happy until, one day, Coyote’s wife became ill and died. Coyote wept and wept and wept, he was besides himself with grief. And it seemed like, in Coyotes world at that time, the whole world was awash with chaos!
Now, Death had been circling around and, seeing how it was with Coyote, Death set his spirit down beside the ol’man and said – ‘its alright Coyote, I can take you to the place that your wife’s gone to, but, there are rules…..’. Coyote was somewhat consoled by this proposition and said, ‘oh man, I will do anything….’, so Death’s spirit said back, ‘well, you must do everything that I tell you, no matter what, right down to the last whisker – godit?!’ and ol’man Coyote was beside himself with longing, so he said, ‘yeh, man, anything, just say it and I’ll do it……’
…….So, that was it and off they set and, and as they were going along, the death spirit made sure Coyote had got it – ‘….everything, mind…’ said Death to Coyote, and ol’Coyote, dragging his tongue in the dirt with grief said ‘….yeh, yeh, just say what you want me to do and I’ll do it’. But, the trouble was, Coyote himself was not sure just what he was following right then, as all he could see was a shadow, but, Coyote longed to be with his wife again and so he followed along behind the shadow and out into the prairie they went……
…the path was long with many strange sights, taking them up the rise of the plain and down the rise of the plain and up again – and, on they went, until Death pointed ahead and said ‘hey, you see there Coyote, hundreds of horses – looks like a big round-up down there’. Squinting his eyes and looking where Death was pointing Coyote said, ‘oh yeh, hundreds of ‘em…’, but, he could see none, ‘…..you’re right, a big round-up!’ So, this is how it was as they were coming nearer to the land of the dead…..and on they went……
….until, Death said, ‘hey, look Coyote, great bunches of serviceberries hanging there…..’, and ol Coyote squinting up his eyes said, ‘oh yeh….’, but, his belly was telling him what his eyes could not, and the spirit, knowing Coyote could see nothing, said, ‘now, lets eat – when you see me reach up, you reach up too, and when I pull down the branch, you pull down the branch…’, and Coyote said, ‘yes, yes, I will do it….’. So, Death reached up, pulled down the branch and, even tho Coyote could not see the berries going into the spirit’s mouth, Coyote did just the same and they both sat there eating……ol’man Coyote watched that spirit’s every move and imitated it. ‘Uhhuh, these are real good serviceberries’ said the spirit – ‘Yeh man,’ said Coyote, ‘good job we found ‘em’,. And thats how it was when they were nearly at the land of the dead, and, when when they’d had their fill, off they set again……
….until, the spirit stopped again and said, ‘Well, we’re about there – look here, theres a great lodge here, and your wife is sitting somewhere in there, but, its so very very long I’d better go in ahead and ask after her’. So, Coyote waited, and eventually Death came back and said, ‘ ok…..they told me where your wife is’, and ol’man Coyote listened intently to everything Death told him. ‘Just here is a door through which we’ll enter the lodge, so, do everything as I tell you, exactly as you see me do it, godit?’ – ‘Uhhuh….’ said Coyote, and so, Death said, ‘I will lift up the door flap, bend down low, and enter…..then, you do exactly the same…’ and so Death entered and Coyote followed him, doing exactly the same things as the Death spirit….
Now, it happened that ol’man Coyote’s wife was sitting right there, near to the entrance, so, the spirit said to Coyote, ‘sit right here, next to your wife’, and they both sat right there. Then the spirit added, ‘your wife will now go and prepare food for us….’, and all this while Coyote could see nothing, except that he was sitting right there in the open prairie with nothing in sight, and yet, he could feel the presence of the shadow next to him…..
So Coyote’s wife prepared the food and Death said, ‘now, lets eat…’, and the shadow reached down and brought hand to mouth and ate. Ol’man Coyote could see only prairie dust, but, there they sat and ate…..Coyote imitated everything, just as his companion had said……until, after a while it seemed Coyote’s wife had put away the food and Death said, ‘you stay put here, I’ve got some people to see’, and out went the spirit……..
Soon enough the spirit returned, saying, ‘things here are different from the way things are in the land of the living. When the dusk comes down here the dawn has come up in your land and when it dawns for us the darkness is growing for you’. So, by this time it had grown dark, and Coyote could hear voices whispering, talking in faint half-tones, all around him. And darkness set in, real dark. Well, oh boy, Coyote saw many fires in a long house, and there they all were, in a very very large lodge where many fires were burning. And, he saw all the various people, looking like shadow forms, but, he could recognise some of them. And, he saw that his wife was sitting by his side…….
You can imagine, but, ol’man Coyote was overjoyed! And, he joyfully greeted many of his old friends who he could see there too! That ol’man Coyote, how happy he was!! Up he lept and up and down the ailse between the fires he marched, going from side to side, stopping to talk with people. All through the night he did this. And, he could see the door through which he and death had entered too…..
….until, at last, the dawn started coming up, and death came to Coyote and said, ‘well, our darkness is falling here, and pretty soon you will not see us, but, you must stay right here. Do not go anywhere, at all. Just stay right here and in the evening you’ll see all the people here again, godit?!’ – so, Coyote said, ‘oh, yes, friend, why would I possibly want to go……’
…so, up came the dawn and Coyote found himself sitting in the midst of the prairie. And he spent the whole day there. Well, phewee! It was hot, and he was dying from the heat, parched and dry, thirsting from the heat all day long. And yet, ol’man Coyote stayed there several days, suffering in the day, but, when the night came, making merry in the great lodge with his wife and friends……
Coyote lost track of the days, but, one day the spirit of Death came up to him and said, ‘tomorrow you will go home, Coyote. And, you will take your wife with you…..’ – ‘oh friend, thats wonderful’ said Coyote, ‘…but, I’m having such a good time here with my wife and all my old friends, I’d like to stay here….’ – ‘uhhuh’, said Death, ‘but, tomorrow is the day you must return and so do as I tell you, remember, and don’t do anything foolish , nothing foolish at all, godit?!’ Ol’man Coyote was shuffling his feet when he said ‘Ok’, so Death went on…’don’t yield to any urges or queer notions now, follow exactly what I tell you.”
Coyote listened as the Death spirit told him…….’there are five mountains, and you will travel for five days. Your wife will be with you, but, you must never ever touch her. At all. No yielding to strange impulses now – talk to her, yes, but never touch her. Only after you have crossed and descended from the fifth mountain may you do whatever you like……’ – and, ol’man Coyote took it all in and said ‘yes, friend’.
So, when the dawn came up again, ol’man Coyote and his wife set off, left that place……
At first it seemed that he was travelling alone, yet, he was dimly aware of his wife’s presence walking along there behind him. And, after the first mountain came up and they had crossed it, Coyote could feel her presence some more – she was definitely there, if only a shadow. On they went, and on crossing the second mountain, they set camp, as they did each night at the foot of each mountain. Coyote would build a little conical lodge with a fire at its center and there they would sit, he on one side of the fire, she on the other. And, each day her form appeared clearer and clearer.
Well, the Death spirit was counting the days since Coyote and his wife had left the land of the dead and, figuring the distance they had travelled, said ‘I hope that ol’ Coyote does everything right, as I told him, and takes his wife through to the world beyond’.
So it was that Coyote and his wife were spending their last night, their fourth in the little conical lodge, and on the morrow she would again assume the character of a living person. Being as it was the last night they were camping Coyote could see his wife very clearly now, as if she were a real person sitting opposite him. He could see her face and body very clearly now, but, he only looked and dared not touch her.
But, suddenly a joyous impulse seized Coyote; the joy of having his wife back again overwhelmed him. He jumped to his feet and rushed over to embrace her! His wife cried out, ‘Stop! Stop! Coyote! Do not touch me! Stop!’ – her warning had no effect. Coyote rushed over to his wife and just as he touched her body, she vanished. She disappeared – returned to the land of the dead, the shadowland.
When the Death spirit learned of Coyote’s folly he became deeply angry. ‘You inveterate doer of this kind of thing!’, Death said, for he knew Coyote all too well, ‘I told you to do everything I told you, not to do anything foolish. You Coyote, were about to establish the practice of returning from death. Only a short time away the human race is coming, but you have spoiled everything and established for them death as it is…….’
Now Coyote wept and wept…..and eventually decided, ‘Tomorrow I shall return to see them again’, and, the following morning he started back for the land of the dead. As he went along he began to recognise the places where he and his spirit friend had passed before. He found the place where the spirit had seen the great round-up of horses and began to do all the things that they had done on their journey to the shadowland. ‘Oh, look at the horses; it looks like a great round-up’ he said…..and, on he went until, he came to the place where the spirit had pointed out all the serviceberries – ‘Oh, such serviceberries, lets pick and eat some of them’, he said……and he went through all the motions of picking and eating berries.
On he went, and, finally, Coyote came to the place where the great long lodge had stood. He said to himself, ‘Now, when I hold up the doorflap and enter, you must do the same’. In fact, he remembered all the little things his friend the Death spirit had said and done. So, when he saw the spot where he had sat before, he went and sat there, and as he sat down said, ‘Now, your wife has brought us food. Let us eat.’ And, he went through the motions of eating again….
….eventually darkness fell, and the full moon rose – Coyote listened for voices, and he looked around for the fires and everything else, but, nothing appreared. Ol’ Coyote sat there in the middle of the prairie, in the dark. He sat there all night, but, the lodge did not appear again, nor did the spirit ever return to him………and so it was with death, when humans came to the world.
At first sight this may appear a radically boisterous New Moon in tropical Taurus – the drive of the people looking for ways to ground the fiery power of a stellium of planets that have been channeling Aries qualities into the world this last month or more. And on a gross level we might well want to make this work, given the scale of events and the challenging dynamic now at work in the world….however, experience is transforming the radical element, and it is the increasing presence of the Goddess consciousness emerging at the heart of the world that is coming through this May New Moon.
She is both primal and supra-intelligent, and there is no place here for brute force or blinkered heads down confrontation in the use of those Aries values. So, while this is a ‘no-nonsense, get real’ Moon, it is fundamentally an opportunity to further embody Her within our daily lives. In this reading of the May New Moon we will be able to see just how powerfully articulate is her primal wisdom as it permeates our world and further prepares us with the creative tools needed to bring an end to the overbearing autocracies of a dieing paradigm….we need to be creative, aware and empowered and, as we shall see, our creativity within the realms of the sensuous, is the conscious vehicle through which the radical element can become grounded…..
Helping us to bring alive the deeper layers of consciousness within, Her divine energy is manifesting the multifacted Soul of the World through Ceres, Persephone, Juno, Pallas, Eris and the Liliths. Key to grounding them all within our hearts is Venus – and it is the medicines she brings, her sensitivity to the sensual nature of Life, that will help us balance the male archetypes now raising the tension we all feel. The field is stretched taut and filled with potential. This is an energy ready to be given expression and we can do so with creative beauty and power, funded by the divine feminine – lets explore the rising celestial wave…..
With Venus now in Aries opposing Saturn in Libra at the New Moon the value of our relationships is brought into sharp focus; just who we know in our hearts to be our most trusted friends and allies, how we relate to them on a one to one basis through fidelity, whether the individuality we each bring into the world is honoured within our partnerships, how we communicate this…..the quality of truth that we know from the feel right factor within our hearts. All these aspects of this opposition are brought out into broad daylight here with Venus close at 2 degrees from newly direct Mercury. The Sabian symbol for Venus’ degree has this keynote : “Projecting into everyday living the realization of wholeness and fulfillment.” Here is a central theme for the mundane application of these energies. This expresses the act of self realisation through the creative fulfilment of spiritualised desire. At 15 Aries Venus brings out the exquisite Sabian symbol of “AN INDIAN WEAVING A CEREMONIAL BLANKET” in full sensual beauty – there is a mediation within this that is profound and inspiring, as ‘the realised original self clothes itself in the universe’. In relation to Saturn it is a degree of realising what buddhists would call Dharma – the everyday as the path of natural law, and here is our first influx of the creative element in context. Our lives are the skene from which the patterns of our soul are woven within the fabric of the Universe. We should say Multi-verse as Venus also opens the possibility to transcend the forms we create and use them as gateways for spirit to enter the world. Again, with Saturn’s Libran structuring and eldership, it becomes possible to view our path as initiation through Life – intiation of both healing medicines through creative acts and as a restoration of rites of passage within the everyday, where every step is made both conscious and divine. For us all, if we care to take notice (and, although surely not all of us are, humanity is awakening to Earth awareness) the intensity of present events is showing us that we have entered the ‘no looking back’ phase of initiation into karmic reality…..we have gone beyond the threshold and the whole world has taken on the shape of the sacred ground within which we will become transformed through living experience – the here-and-now has become humanity’s ritual ground for initiation into adulthood.
So from the very start we are called to recognise the pragmatic side of a spiritualised life, lived creatively as prayer in practice that serves a larger process. The Sabian also refers to the state akin to that following a divination, where enquiry leads to awakened consciousness that becomes infused with ‘knowing’ of a divine order and seeks to find creative expression that carries forward the clear intent of the insights revealed…….we talked last time about the importance of divination, the role of the diviner as an ‘inner mentor’ – now, we can take a step further and become purposefully articulate as divining beings, and this role is asking to be fully activated and embodied with this new cycle. We can make our offerings based upon the insights within our active meditations. This is common practice for the diviner/healer – it is powerful and effective within the everyday, both for grounding our own divine nature through creativity and for giving form to the healing energies that are seeking to work with and through us. And the natural consequence of such is to translate knowledge into wisdom through action that serves the larger purpose….again the unfolding events and situations within the world give us our clear mandate, and this is a purpose that is clear to us all now; we only have to look around and percieve with our heart’s inner eyes to know where our prayers are most needed. It has become obvious, also, that we can equally become intoxicated with the divine; it is both zealousness and hubris that bring the imbalance – as both unconscious and unacknowledged symptoms of a deep collective soul wound, the spiritual void at the heart of ‘material culture’ that seeks to be filled with divine energy, this affects our world through its own narcolepsy….and here is where the reading begins to open out.
Simply embodying our divinity, realising our sacred nature, is creative and, under ‘healthy and balanced’ circumstances this may give rise to cultural expression that embodies the spiritual health of the people; we only have to look to the life-ways and creative beauty of the indigenous world for to see our heritage mirrored back to us. By contrast, our dominant cultural trend has brought us into a world that is stripped back to the mundane, where creativity is reduced to a feature of our human capacity for both survival, invention and decadence, and we are paying heavily for the latter – creativity needs to honour the divine to become balanced, for the divine and the manifest are symbiotically interwoven. Without this honouring we are constantly pursuing a path that leads towards what the Hopi call Koyaanisqatsi – a ‘world out of balance’. Following the blind objective dictates of ‘science in service to progress’ this desacralised and hubristic impulse has driven us to the edge of extinction, where ‘progress’ is the hunger that seeks to fill the void within with the false gods of materialism. Such is the halmark of the patriarchal paradigm, controlling the hunger and making us servants of its self-serving agendas. So, within the fallout of our patriarchal paradigm, its entropic meltdown, it is the function of Goddess awareness and energy to alert us to the realities of the imbalance, and to show us the path that we must now follow to restore it….for follow we must. And more than anything else it is the denied aspects of the Goddess that are returning, her innate presence within all things as well as the multiplicity of her conscious expression. We need look no further than the aspects to pick up the threads of the story……
Sextile the Sun and Moon we find Ceres, the sickle, wheat, poppy and snake bearing Mother, provider and pragmatic parent, wise to the ways of the underworld….opposite her is Juno, who demands the honouring of balanced individuality within partnership, or exposes the infidelities that betray the sacred trist! What brings the fine edge to this arrangement is Pallas square the Moon, and Pallas raises consciousness with Amazonian intensity in service to wisdom – so, there’s no question about whether this Moon is about consciously addressing the imbalances within the world in relation to the patriarchal paradigm and all its works. What we find in this configuration is a potentially emasculating yod between Venus sextile Pallas pointing towards Juno at the action point, with Ceres opposite at the reaction point, and she’s twitching her blade ready to express the combined energies of her sisters with decisive impact. How does this translate……?
Venus and Pallas bring the passionate heart and dis-passionately wise women’s knowing together and mutualy raise their values; Juno holds this up as the template for action that honours the sacred and Ceres makes sure that it is applied with decisive and unflinching effect – the Sabians again provide the symbol for the mundane context. Pallas’ degree has these lines within the text for the symbol : “…….the confrontation with superpersonal group or occult power…..In social life, as well as occultism, conflict is always to be expected; one must prepare for it……a deep-seated struggle is inevitable at least to some extent…..It can be a struggle against the ghosts of the unfulfilled past, the “unlived life,” or a confrontation with accumulated and often-eluded karma……One may have to rehearse the dangerous play…..Individual rashness cannot be tolerated……Even a deliberate sacrifice must play a well-conceived part — like the sacrifice of an important piece in a game of chess…..the process of integration of the individual into a social Whole, a community, an occult Brotherhood…….The concept of group-value dominates the entire scene.”
We are put on collective call to be aware, pre-cogniscent of the values and motivations behind our actions and to take this higher consciousness into embodiment, centered within the heart – a far cry from the scientism of the collapsing era. Juno’s energy is finely tuned to bring out the crimes that have been committed against us in the name of ‘over-Fathering’ our world. The Sabian for Juno’s degree offers the healing balance, saying “…the mystic Beloved hands him what she has woven for him out of spiritual threads.” This is the recognition of the devotee as the “the blossom that crowns a long series of incarnations” – it also offers the redemptive honouring of the masculine principle within service to the divine feminine. Once again, there is the creative element, the soul-weaving that echoes the Norns message from the last Moon cycle, and we cannot escape being aware of the fated nature of our predicament . Karma is at the heart of this – it requires owning and cleansing, the integral function of these combined goddess energies. And there is a further context for this, that Ceres delivers through fearless re-orientation to Earth consciousness and the seasonal cycles, as they express the endless round of Life and Death…..Ceres, although applying an underlying pressure with increasing effect now, is absolutely key here and we will come back to her. But, this is not all!
Both Ceres (in wide aspect to Saturn) and the Moon+Sun are quincunx Saturn, and they too are in an energising sextile – the message is doubled, and this time it is a blunt and imperative challenge to the Saturnian authority figure, a blunting of his masculinity; ’emasculation’ perhaps defeats the purpose, more likely the ‘little death’ after the ejaculation of patriarchal culture in climax provides a more useful reading! The structuring principle is being broken down in the world to allow for the inner light of Goddess consciousness to shine from within, and that means within every one of us, women and men alike – for it is the paradigm of masculine dominance and not the male sex that is being brought to justice here. So, here at least is a window of opportunity – if Saturn is at the action point of this second yod, Venus puts the redress into action, at the reaction point opposite Saturn. Ceres, being in waning aspect to Saturn, channels her energy through her initiate’s heart and values, and Venus holds this role – she is becoming empowered, which means it is at a heart level that we are being initiated – we can take courage and stand up to the oppressive regimes that embody Saturnian control and bring the masculine and feminine energies to a higher level.
The divine and the mundane intermix, but, the mundane application becomes more visible if we come back to the New Moon. Here Sun and Moon combine, and the Sabian symbol for their degree clealry expresses those values that are now being hi-lighted, which must be addressed : “He is the strong man, the man of ambition who has to take care of the inward-turned “woman” aspect of his consciousness, the aspect that seeks to grow a beautiful “garden” of individual selfhood…..the relationship of ego-man and society has taken the aspect of COMPULSION FOR GAIN.” The end symbol is glaringly obvious, especially in light of the above, but, the inner message makes us think as it can be read both ways…..the feminine has become reduced within the world to an inner ideal, in service to unconscious patriarchal greed and personal profit. We can see this everywhere…..we live in peril of destruction if we allow this to continue. While Ceres provides the underlying directive Venus is the linch-pin within this reading, her role is pivotal in realising that directive. Yes, we want the earth to be our ‘beautiful garden’, but, how can we possibly achieve this if we continue to supress that which Earth is the embodiment of and abuse Her body in the process. What we create around us reflects what is within us…..the goddesses are showing us that our inner work must continue with renewed dedication.
Being in the sign of Aries some astrologers would say Venus is here ruled by Mars, so, how does the warrior fit into this process? Mars, having just conjunct with Jupiter shortly before this new Moon, and still close by the great benefactor, it is now the closer attentions of Eris that is driving Jupiter to distraction and Mars must pay heed – this spells big trouble unless we bring about changes in our outlook, a re-energising of our fundamental philosophies. The warning is that unless we orient ourselves in the right direction and utilise power wisely, the world situation will esculate aggressively! There is hope – Jupiter can bring out the best in Mars, and we know that there is little room for gungho macho attitudes anymore. This too is a point that the goddesses are pushing home. Within the revolutionary movement that has been spreading throughout the North African and Middle-Eastern nations it is the voice of the women that is emerging as the articulate expression of grounded reason and motivation for real change – these are not simply movements for political freedom, they are also a demand for equality and truth. How can we achieve equality when the majority of governments are led by men who are driven by fear, greed and power-over and who continue to pursue their elite agenda’s through use of force in the name of ‘democracy’? How can we achieve real freedom within the patriarchal spewing of weaponry into the world, and this applies equally whether there are politicians with their fingers on the button, their pockets lined with the loot of clandestine arms sales that merely fuel further conflict, whether they are represented by State police, the enlisting of men as cannon fodder, or high-tech combat soldiers, providing the perfect cover for the covert pursuit of “COMPULSION FOR GAIN” – not only is Saturn being called to account. Mars energy can help us realise the role of Sacred Warrior and our goddess infused creativity is the channel for his energies as well, thus bringing him into service to Her……
Pallas, in Aquarius, knows that Uranus, closely shadowed by the Liliths, is out to bring Plutocracy to the dock – the two year square-off between Uranus and Pluto begins within months, we are feeling the tensions build through this as well – and Pallas higher knowing is visibly broadcast throughout the WWW. She knows that the Liliths will expose the dark side of the political power base, and while they entrain Uranus, may continue to do so with explosive and unpredictable power. So long as our collective intelligence is active as a global network, we can keep this impulse growing and channel it for the greater good, until the world we seek within our hearts, to manifest and pass on to our children, has become a reality….this is the central message of the goddesses at this New Moon. And it will happen, regardless, for the rising Goddess consciousness is as real as the ground we stand upon – our task is to bring the visionary power She funds us with into our human reality.
This is no fairytale – the authorities are constantly feeding us ‘less than the truth’, contradicting themselves, inducing both confusion, miasm and blind ignorance – these are the fingerprints of those who would be God, the hubrists who hold the seats of worldly power. To combat this the warrior archetype must now be taken to its higher vibration….and, this is where we find Mars role most strongly vindicated, as he trines the North Node. If ever we faced a time when we are asked to embody the Rainbow Warrior as fully conscious and initiated individuals, to come forth and champion our Earth in divinely inspired creative Unity, it is now…..men and women alike. Remember, Venus is telling us it is a sacred calling of the heart, but, we can channel that powerful Ceres energy through this role as well…..our voices are strong in the global network, as artists, writers, musicians, campaigners, communicators increasingly embodying extra-ordinary epoch making power. Creativity. Ceres is the Goddess of ‘experience’. The snakes she has at her side bring cthonic wisdom and electrifying kundalini energy – here is a reflection of how the religious dogmas of patriarchal divisiveness have subverted her role. It is through experience that knowledge within incarnation becomes manifestly conscious – the church fathers have re-written the story and called such experience ‘the Fall’.
There are deep resonances for the Earth Mother within this – in the Eleusinian Mysteries her initiatic wisdom became both enshrined and protected, initiates to the Mysteries being sworn to secrecy. In Demeter’s myth (and Ceres is the roman name for Demeter) the Earth ‘fell’ to barrenness after Hades (Pluto) snatched her daughter from the en-flowered fields of springtime, and Demeter sought her daughter the world over – only Hecate was awake to the crime! Here are two aspects of the story worth noting; first, Persephone, Demeter and Hecate are triple aspects of the Goddess, Maiden, Mother and Crone – and what is most interesting in this is that while Persephone and Hecate are ‘personal’ names, Demeter is an ‘archetypal role’ name. This is reflected and developed within the story when Demeter, after fruitless searching, encounters Baubo at the house of King Celeus of Eleusis (where the Mysteries found their home). Baubo and Iambe, the king’s daughter, try to placate Demeters exhaustion with wine and food – Demeter refuses nourishment, and so Iambe and Baubo, attempt to raise Demeter’s spirits with lude and lascivious verses ( we get the Iambic metre in poetry from Iambe) – this too fails. Demeter will respond only to the archetypal, the personal does not touch her. So, it is Baubo’s great gift of womanhood that finally breaks through Demeter’s mourning as she raises her skirts and vagina – Demeter is awakened to the full impact of women’s power of regeneration, her Mysteries enshrined and embodied. Baubo is the Sheilanagig whose own body is the archetypal gateway of the sexual powers of regeneration and their inward turning, the deep Crone ‘kenning’ of matured and lived wisdom.
Ceres/Demeter carries the pervasive ‘field’ energy of the archetype and this helps us to understand how her influence is at work within this reading as well as throughout her astrological journey.
The second aspect of Demeter’s story we need to take notice of here brings us back to the current state of the world. After Pluto (Hades in the Greek version) kidnaps Persephone, the fertility of the Earth falls into crisis and the seasons ceased their cycle – some interpreters have attributed this catastrophy to Demeter’s own doing, others to the loss of the Kore, the maiden aspect of the Goddess. There are also echoes here of the massive global changes in climate that were unfolding through the last Ice Age – Ceres myth may well have arisen from this. We should remember that Hecate, the Crone, is wise to the crime. She is no stranger to the Death realms herself, having connection to the initiatic power of the menopause, the inward turning of the creative cycle at the end of ovulation, the final phase of the triple Moon Goddess. She petitions Zeus (through giving the Sky Father full knowledge of Hades crime and Persephone’s location) to persuade Hades to release Persephone (the now initiated Kore). This is a big wake-up call for us all – only through initaited knowledge of the full Life-Death-Life cycle can we reclaim our wholeness, our potential for balanced and fruitfull living – we can become wise within our world and all that is unfolding in our midst. Inspite of themselves the patriarchs are revealing our path. Our world, Mother Earth, Demeter, is initiating us all on this path – how we wake up to the true nature of the presence of Death within Life is the most fundamental of all initiatic challenges. Death can be seen as both the instrument of the mass crimes against our humanity that we are seeing perpetrated by the patriarchal powers and culture of our times, and also as the awakener to our hidden fertility, our creativity become wise. The stolen Goddess, denied her rightful place for too long, can be returned to us now, re-installed within the heart of our life-ways ans culture. Ceres’ poppies are the sacrament, the sacred entheogen that give us symbolic access to the archetypal realms – Hecate’s ‘kenning’ is the power of experience and knowing combined, reflected through our divining psychic eye, in our ‘seeing’ into the archetypal. Another aspect of the triple Lunar Goddess in her ‘dark’ knowing aspect points up the psychic and occult energy present here – Lilith has been at work with Uranus.
What we see in Liliths influence is the esoteric aspect of Uranus being brought out – his entry into tropical Aries saw Fukushima explode with devastating effect. Radiation continues to pour into our oceans and atmosphere – the full facts are being covered up. There may be justification in this – panic is to be avoided. But, this is yet another halmark of the ‘over-Fathering’ of the patriarchal approach. We are made vulnerable without the facts – Lilith is stealthy and eery in combination with Uranus and this becomes dangerous and subversive in the extreme if kept unconscious. This is also how radiation works at the biological and atmospheric level. The Father culture does not work in its controlling and protective capacity when this dis-empowers the individual – this is full-on politic at the personal level. With regards radiation we need to excercise our own power in other ways – careful research and informed networking can bring us the inside knowledge we need to counter the veil of un-truth we are being sold. Uranus with the Liliths can aid us in this, and here we can see the power of our communications across the WWW at work. Venus also tells us that Nature nas the medicines we need.
The Aquarian ideal was diseminated far and wide under Neptunes influence and now he is feeding spiritualised imaginative Piscean energy into the New Moon cycle via Venus. The Dharma Moon is supporting Venus’ role with exquisite compassion and creative imagination of the highest spiritual order – she is aided and abeted by Neptune in quintile to the New Moon. This most creative of aspects resonates with Venus through sacred geometry, the quintile aspect emphasising the fifth harmonic that Venus embodies in her cycles. Her esoteric qualities bring us back to the reclamation of knowledge from the Tree of Life and echo Ceres ‘fall’ in redemption – her dreaming is of the sacred marraige in all its sensual glory. Chiron close by Neptune brings shamanic consciousness to the root of this creative influx and emphasises the sensuous world…..it is only through the sensuous, and Venus is nothing but sensuality in action, that we can truly know the fullness of divinity. The shadow side of ‘puritanism’ in our world is exposed by the goddesses. Too long the abstract has dominated the spiritual – the shaman knows otherwise. Unflinching, the shaman undergoes the test, the initiatic process that sublimates the ego to the divine will, and so must we…..this is a visceral process, a path that leads to empowered return and the pragmatic presence of spirit in the world. Here again are resonances with Ceres story. It must be completed, for any remaining vestige of ego-oriented motive threatens to become a self serving power that manifests the dark side of the occult, and, remember, Ceres made sure that the inner knowledge of the Eleusinian mysteries was kept secret, known only to the initiates – the penalty for revealing them was death. Is it any wonder that in a death oriented culture the dark underbelly of the global elite is becoming exposed; and do they care, with such a powerful heirarchy of fear at their heart? Lilith, branded the ‘fallen’ bride, the ‘harlot’, the passionate Lunar Goddess of deep women’s knowing, is uncanny and watches Pluto with unblinking and penetrative eyes……as irradiated particles, carried on the wind, falling with the rain, settle on the land…..in Uranus ear she whispers eerily, and asks “did they get it yet, or shall we give them a vision to wake them up, a spell to break their chains, and for revolution, a powerful potion, a medicine of freedom through creativity…..?”
Take heart….our lives are blessed with divine knowing. In the Roman version of the Ceres myth Persephone is known as Proserpina – the celestial powers work in mysterious ways, for asteroid Proserpina is conjunct the Moon and Sun at this Dharma New Moon….
Deep power of the Goddess be with us all….
This carving in Green New Zealand Soapstone honours the spirit energy and quality that fills all things – the pneuma or breath of Life. Here she takes on singing feminine form, but, it was almost by accident that this came about – as she emerged, working with her brought a diverse array of challenges, responsibilities and gifts. Even in stillness the spirit moves…..and, sometimes, it speaks to us….
When I began shaping this sumptious stone, I simply had it in mind that there was a kind of flowing energy within it, both corporial and ethereal, but, as the work progressed I began to uncover elements of this energy that I could not have fore-seen.
At the outset the image that came up suggested a wind or water being – but I could also see a face, so that is where I began. As the shaping developed I was surprised to find a vein of white and gold quartz crystals emerging from within the matrix, manifesting a lightning streak across her face, one crystal in particular sitting magically within the pupil of her left eye (you can just see it in the pic) – she tested me with this, for, while this particular piece of soapstone is actually quite hard for its type, the quartz was much harder, and brought in a tension that slowed things down – the risk of making a mistake within the process increased significantly – one slip could change everything…..and slip I did!
Being a reductive process, there is no going back in carving and mistakes have to be capitalised upon – this can be a challenge, but, is often very helpful in finding the form that works best – its as though something intervenes, as if to say, “no mate, your going in the wrong direction – try this!”
Nevertheless, the carving of the quartz went well and, perhaps, thinking I had gotten past the challenge, the energy of the process began to build up again – thats when it happened! It was when I came to shape her mouth – the carving tool glanced off a hidden chip of quartz and, unintentionally on my part, her mouth opened – she ended up singing……..but, looking back, I am glad of this…..as it also became very clear that she wanted to be seen in this particular way – through her animated singing expression, her song, the rest of her began to come more into focus.
I’d checked the whole stone closely by this time for colouration that might reveal other hidden surprises. Her flowing energy became more visible and, appearing within the rippled and dappled colouring of the stone, became wind blown hair – within this there were other distinct shapes also visible, feathers on the one side and fingers on the other, and yet she seemed to have no body. This was intriguing. Around that time, I was also given a book on the Inuit carving traditions as part payment for a commission and as I fell under the spell of these wonderfull carvings I came across representations of shamans in spirit flight, bodyless, except for a hand, representing their humanity and sole (or soul) link to the physical worlds as they journey through the spirit realms. This was helpful, but, it was not quite right – I did not want to copy or re-interpret; this carving had an identity of its own. I did however find one carving that spoke louder than the rest – it showed Sedna, her long partly braided hair assuming flowing, rippling forms around her. There was something in this….
I knew of Sedna’s story, filled with a confrontational and difficult energy, tragedy arising from the clash between the young Sedna’s power of choice, paternal will and supernatural power. It is a strong story and there is much sadness in Sedna; having refused to bend to her father’s will in his choice of suitor he takes her out to sea, the supernatural intervenes and she not only becomes the victim of that confrontation, but, is exiled as a result – where have we heard that particular thread before?! However, in some tellings, hers is also a creation story – in the struggle to save herself, she looses her fingers and these become the Whale, Dolphin and Seal families. There is a radical give-away, an exchange at work in this – through it she becomes very powerful, assimilated into the oceanic worlds as a mistress of the sea creatures, protecting their spirits from exploitation. Sedna’s original right to choose her own soul path merges with the world of soul that the ocean represents, but, she looses the ability to use her hands in the process.
There is within many indigenous traditions the understanding that the spirits do not have thumbs! and are reliant upon us humans to work the physical – and while that may be our human power, theirs is in the inspirational and animating force that makes it possible for us to work creatively, through use our hands for example. Within indigenous wisdom it is a symbiotic relationship that requires us to feed the spirits so that they may fund our world with their nourishing and inspirational powers, that the world will remain animated. When we neglect this relationship the world falls into disarray and decay (look around!). The spirits and divinities seem to particularly like it when we make give-aways or offerings to them through our creativity. With Sedna this symbiosis with the spirit worlds also takes shape, but, she must be negotiated with, her hair combed and washed as an offering that is made in the hope that she will release the souls of the animals through the hunt – so that the people may live.
As Sedna’s story came alive in the Inuit carving many things seemed to be speaking together, to be in conversation with the emerging carving – but it was not her story itself, it was an essence within her story, that was coming through – her element is water; the carving continually spoke of the air – so, I decided to dig deeper. I felt that behind Sedna’s story as a creation myth there might be another layer and thats where I found Sila.
Amongst northern peoples of the arctic in particular, Sila has the power to shape the weather, the wind and the sky – along with other traditions, Inuit peoples have portrayed Sila as male, calling this spirit Silap Inua amongst other honorific names – however, Sila is also very ancient, considered formless. While Sedna is sometimes thought of as the daughter of the great spirit who created all Life, Sila is translated as ‘universal’, associated with the great spirit itself, animating all Life. But, the strongest scent came from the fact that Sila is found across the northern latitudes, in the Siberian as well as the northern Canadian and Greenland indigenous traditions. Sedna is considered more contemporary, allied with the animals that provide the Inuit with their primary food sources – Sila too is connected with the hunt, as well as the observance of the customs and rites between the people and the spirits, but, she embraces the animating spirit that fills all, on land, sea and in air – she appears to be an ancestor of Sedna. And like Sedna, Sila’s story has a shadow side too…..
Magical power is not to be toyed with, it demands respect and aquiring it has its risks and responsibilities – we can be very easily overcome by its ‘glamour’. It is one of the traditional dangers of ‘glamour’ that it can entice us into the vast interior of the wilds, perhaps never to be seen again – perhaps this shows a common expression of parental and communal fear, much the same as that associated with the magical enticement of the faerie realms, a place in which a different order of time exists from whose enchantment we may never return. The faerie realms spin their glamour around us continuously, and, for the most part remain hidden behind the appearance of things – once the veil is parted and we are touched by the ‘glamour’ our lives are never the same – Sedna herself has some of this quality – through hard won lessons in survival she is both mediator and protector of this power.
So too, for the shaman – amongst the Copper Inuit of the Northwest territories of Canada, Sila as ‘wind in-dweller’ has the tradition of empowering the shaman with the ability to shamanise on behalf of the community. For the initiate too the challenge is in the return – it is through transformation, burning off the old personality and complete inner re-structuring through initiation, that s/he can deliver the promise of the calling. If the ego or independant personal will are out of balance within, the use of that magical power becomes an issue and potential for ‘shadow’ to manifest remains….perhaps there is a lesson for us all in this.
The more I learned of Sila the more her qualities, the better her story seemed to fit….there was no attempt on my part to portray Sila, but, the story of Sedna and Sila had opened up a deeper resonance within the carving and, working with this, the whole form fell into place and the carving quickly came to completion.
I cannot help wondering how much the usurping of the divine feminine, of her rightful powers, is also present within Sila’s story. There was never any doubt in my mind that the spirit in the stone had a woman’s face and it felt wholly fitting to honour both Sedna and Sila through this….but, it was a difficult journey in many ways, intense, uncertain and mystifying.
Sila’s challenge is not only to pay attention to the calling of spirit – she also requires us to do our inner work and to maintain the balance we find through this, within our personal empowerment – Sila’s challenge also symbolises a return to the original unity of matter and spirit and she reminds us that we have to be willing to enter the wilderness, the wild raw nature of our unknowing, before we can reclaim something of our original state – it is perhaps no wonder that Sila is also regarded as the substance out of which soul is made!
Very soon after she was completed this carving found a new home, also through a chance encounter, but, thats a story for another time. As it happens I am about to embark on a new carving to celebrate this spirit – this time in wood. The piece is Ash wood from a tree that was first struck by lightning and subsequently blown down in a hurricane! I have a seat carved from the same tree – its actually very comfortable….but, I have it in mind to do something with this carving that I have not done before – to record the whole process of its making, and I hope to make this the subject of a future article at ‘owlmirror’……..we will see!
…..a certain magic brings us into the world, often forgotten and overlooked once we begin our adult years – but, it never dies – we only need to keep our hearts open to the messages and signs that it sends us, and Sila exemplifies this magic. Sometimes you may even hear her singing on the wind……